"With these steps, we're going to start our open enrollment strong," said Sylvia Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, which oversees Obamacare. "And we're going to leave our marketplace stronger" for people in the future, she added.
Obamacare's fourth open enrollment season begins Nov. 1. It will end Jan. 31. Obamacare plans are sold on HealthCare.gov, the federally run marketplace, as well as by state-run exchanges. People can also buy individual health plans outside of those markets, through a broker, privately run exchange, or from insurers themselves.
The penalty for not having some kind of health coverage in 2017 will be the higher of 2.5 percent of household income or about $695 per adult.
Tuesday's announcement was the last in a series of three HHS has made this month with an eye toward boosting enrollment in Obamacare plans, and toward increasing the strength of the so-called risk pool of those plans. The other moves were tied to the use of short-term health insurance that doesn't comply with Obamacare rules, and funding that could help state insurers hold down premium increases next year.
Plans with weak risk pools have a disproportionate share of customers who are costing the plans more in health benefits claimed than they are paying in monthly premiums. Plans with strong risk pools are taking in enough premiums to more than cover their costs for paying for covered benefits, while earning insurers some profit.
A number of insurers are asking for double-digit percentage increases for their Obamacare plans based on the argument that their risk pools have been weaker than anticipated.
Tuesday's announcement reflects the fact that younger adults tend to be, as a group, healthier than older adults, and less apt to use health benefits that can drain money out of insurance plans.
If the initiative works, and more younger adults enroll, it could help control premium rate increases in future years.