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Unlocking the mystery of Obamacare demographics

Even as she proudly announced Tuesday that more than 2.1 million people enrolled in Obamacare insurance by the end of 2013, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and her spokeswomen were conspicuously mum on just who those people are—a fact that could push plan prices higher next year.

The demographic profile of Obamacare enrollees nationally—in particular the sizes of various age groups and gender distribution—still has not been revealed after the first three months of open enrollment.

(Read more: Obamacare cracks 2 million enrollees, eyes possibly 7 million-plus)

Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, during Sebelius' conference call with reporters Tuesday declined to comment on the details of what demographic data federal officials had, or when they would release such data.

An affordable health coverage sign stands a health insurance education and enrollment event in Silver Spring, Md.Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"When we have more granular information and data, we will certainly share that with you," said Bataille, whose agency runs, the federal Obamacare exchange that sells insurance in 36 states. CMS also collects enrollment data from the other 15 exchanges being run by individual states and the District of Columbia.

In contrast, California's Obamacare exchange has been releasing detailed demographic data along with its enrollment numbers, as have several other states.

"It's all part of our policy and our position of transparency," said Larry Hicks, spokesman for the Covered California exchange. "I think spreading the word about our efforts to enroll and the progress we're making is ultimately beneficial to the goal of enrolling Californians."

In contrast, the reluctance—or inability—of federal officials to disclose total national demographic data has led to speculation that the "mix" of enrollees to date is disproportionately weighted toward older people, who on average use health insurance benefits more often than younger people. If that is the case—and if it remains so—insurers, when they price plans for 2015, might have to bump up premiums significantly to account for the disparity.

Targeting the gaps

"I can't tell if they just don't have the capacity to get the data correct, or … if they're hiding it because the numbers are bad," said Jonathan Wu, chief analyst of the consumer price comparison website, referring to federal officials.

"It would be much more informative to everyone if you knew what was going on. … It's sort of troubling that it's not being done."

Wu said it is possible the federal officials in recent months were so busy trying to fix the slew of software problems that plagued after its rollout that they have not yet focused on parsing demographic data.

But, he noted: "It's definitely in their database, and any single competent database analyst would be able to get it out. That's the kind of thing they should be able to do."

Wu said that knowing the current demographic mix could help Obamacare advocates better target certain groups of people in various states to get them to sign up and improve the mix.

"The problem of not having the data, you just don't know who to address," he said.

California's enrollment data has exposed the fact that younger adults, so far, have enrolled at a significantly lower rate than their share of the overall state population, according to most recently available numbers. And the state's exchange also was lagging in signing up Hispanics, who are a sizable minority of residents there.


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