Covered California says more than 425,000 people signed up for private insurance coverage during the third enrollment period under President Barack Obama's health care law



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SACRAMENTO, California — More than 425,000 people in California signed up for private health insurance coverage during the third enrollment period under President Barack Obama's health care law, the state's health insurance exchange announced Thursday.

Covered California, the state-run health-insurance exchange created under the federal Affordable Care Act, said young adults are making up a growing share of new enrollees. Strong enrollment by young people is crucial to the success of Obama's health overhaul because they use less health care, keeping costs lower for everyone.

Young adults, ages 18-34, made up 37 percent of new sign-ups this year, up from 29 percent in the first year, said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. He credited better social media efforts and young people telling their friends that they were able to get subsidized coverage for a low price.

"It's that word of mouth that I think is most important," Lee told reporters in a conference call. "People are seeing it work. They're talking to friends."

The figures reflect the number of people who shopped for coverage and selected a plan during the three-month enrollment window. Coverage isn't effective unless they pay their first month's bill.

Covered California expects to release more detailed demographic data in the coming weeks. That will show how effectively the agency is reaching out to minority groups, which insurance plans they're choosing and whether people who select a plan end up paying their first bill, said Amy Adams, a senior program officer at the California Health Care Foundation.

More than 1.1 million consumers who were enrolled last year selected a plan for 2016, the agency said. Of the 425,000 new enrollees, nearly 100,000 signed up in the last four days of the enrollment window.

People who began an application have until Saturday to finish the process for 2016 coverage, Lee said. Otherwise, they can only enroll if they have a life-changing event, such as marriage, divorce, job loss or the birth of a child. The next open-enrollment period begins in the fall. Covered California allows people to compare and purchase insurance plans and earn subsidies if they qualify. It also directs low-income people to Medi-Cal, the health insurance plan for the poor, which is paid for jointly by the state and federal governments.

Fines for people who don't carry insurance rise sharply this year. For 2016, the fine will be $695 or 2.5 percent of taxable income, whichever is higher.

Lee said in October that Covered California would target a remaining pool of about 750,000 Californians who are eligible for subsidized health coverage but haven't signed up.

"Obviously there's more work to do, but it's progress that we have more people coming in to get the coverage they need," said Anthony Wright, director of Health Access California, a consumer advocacy group.

Enrollment tends to dip throughout the year as people get a job, move away or stop paying their premiums. Wright said everyone involved in health care needs to do a better job attracting people who have life-changing events that allow them to sign up for coverage between open-enrollment periods.

The Obama administration said Thursday that 12.7 million people nationally signed up for insurance or renewed existing coverage during the enrollment period.

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