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Does Big Exchange Turnout Include the Young and Healthy?

By John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat Editor

October 8, 2013 -- A constant thread through analysts' comments about the early interest in health insurance exchanges is that there are many more shoppers than anyone expected. Does that mean many young and healthy people are shopping? Insurance industry sources aren't embracing that theory yet. And a definitive answer probably won't come before January, they add.

Some in the industry are skeptical that the figures on visits to insurance exchange websites are a true reflection of the level of interest. For example, when the administration estimated last week that there have been 7 million unique visits to, consultant Robert Laszewski said any claim that seven million people have visited "is not taken seriously" in the industry.

And there is "no way to know how many are healthy." Laszewski added.

"I think that those who are claiming that the number indicates an early success of the program are fully of sound and fury indicating nothing," added a managed care industry executive who requested anonymity in order to speak more freely.

The figure "is not a number that indicates anything reliable because it includes duplicate log-ins, people who lost connectivity, curiosity seekers, and the media," the executive said. "Regarding the ages of those who eventually enroll, it will probably take until January of 2014 until anyone gets a sense of the demographics."

Laszewski likewise advanced the view that the totals are heavily inflated by multiple visits by the same people. But that's strongly disputed by Health and Human Services officials who suggest that the actual number of different people coming to is close to the number of unique visits—and certainly not something far less.

However, consultant John Gorman of the Gorman Health Group said last week that there likely are many young and healthy Americans looking over the new marketplaces.

"I'm sure there's plenty of them among those eight million unique visitors," he said. "The question is how many of them are among the completed and effective applications. We're not going to know that for weeks, possibly months."

Gorman points to surveys showing that as many two-thirds of the so-called young invincibles "are going to really look at it. Interestingly, a huge impact on that segment is going to come between Thanksgiving and Christmas literally from their parents nagging them when they go home for the holidays."

Gorman added that "I'm not as pessimistic as many others are out there that these folks will get frustrated and won't come back. These are not people shopping for a plane ticket or a big screen TV. This is health insurance. They will come back."

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