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Md. insurance exchange shoppers trend young, female, officials say

Young people are showing interest in buying insurance through Maryland Health Connection, the state marketplace created as part of federal health care reform, with those under 35 making up a third of those exploring the organization's website, officials said Friday.

Users in the 25-29 and 30-34 age groups make up the largest and second-largest shares, respectively, of the 25,000 people who have created profiles on the marketplace's website, MarylandHealthConnection.gov, despite persistent technical difficulties. The users are also 53 percent female and come from across the state, according to data health officials released.

Officials did not say how those demographics compare to those of people who have applied for or enrolled in coverage. From Oct. 1-10, 1,121 Marylanders enrolled in plans.

How many young and healthy people opt to buy insurance through the exchanges is considered key in the success of health reform. Uptake among young people could help reduce the number of uninsured across the country and also provide insurers with premium revenue that will help cover the cost of insuring chronically ill people who can no longer be denied coverage under health reform.

About 4,000 people ages 25-29 have created profiles on the site, which allows them to explore options for insurance plans and to see if they are eligible to buy coverage through the exchange or to receive subsidies. About 3,500 people aged 30-34 have created profiles, while an average of about 2,600 people from age groups ranging from 35-39 to 60-65 have done so.

Officials reported less interest from people aged 20-24, with about 1,400 creating profiles. Adults under age 26 are allowed to stay on their parents' health insurance plans under the law.

The users are scattered across the state, coming in largest numbers from urban and suburban areas around Baltimore and Washington. Some pockets with large numbers of people also appeared around Cumberland, Elkton and Salisbury.

Gov. Martin O'Malley expressed confidence Friday that the state can overcome the technical problems.

"There are all sorts of glitches and bumps and bruises in getting this new effort off the ground, but we're getting stronger every day," O'Malley said.

He said he wasn't surprised by the enrollment numbers. The use of the state's health insurance website has been going up every day, O'Malley added, but that the vast majority of those clicking on it appear mainly to be shopping.

"We're working on the glitches during the shopping phase," he said

Baltimore Sun reporter Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.

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