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Young adults push health care enrollment above targets

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday announced that 8 million people have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and that 35 percent are under the age of 35, countering the criticism that it would attract mainly older and sicker people.

In detailing the numbers, the White House said 18- to 34-year-olds made up 28 percent of enrollees. The 35 percent number included children who would typically be covered by a parent’s policy.

Obama also said that millions of the enrollees had purchased private insurance for the first time, strengthening the administration’s case that the new health law was expanding coverage, not simply moving people from one insurance plan to another.

“This thing is working,” Obama said.

The president’s remarks, delivered in the White House briefing room, amounted to a second victory lap after he announced two weeks ago that more than 7 million people had signed up for insurance during the government’s first open enrollment period.

The administration extended the sign-up period for two weeks, until the middle of April.

—Mark Landler, The New York Times

Wal-Mart to offer customers store-to-store money transfers

Wal-Mart announced Thursday that it would offer a new relatively low-fee service to let customers transfer money to each other between Wal-Mart stores within the United States.

It is the company’s latest foray into financial services traditionally available at banks. It is aimed at people who have little or no access to bank accounts, and at lower fees that likely will undercut the competition.

“Wal-Mart-2-Wal-Mart leverages our existing footprint and the large-scale systems that our company can bring to bear to enable a low-cost service such as this,” said Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services for Wal-Mart United States.

The service adds to Wal-Mart’s array of financial products, including credit cards, prepaid debit cards and check cashing, many of which cater to people with access to few if any banking services. That demographic, largely lower-income families, is an important piece of Wal-Mart’s customer base, but the company has lost some ground recently because such shoppers have turned increasingly to dollar stores.

More than 29 percent of households in the United States did not have a savings account, and about 10 percent of households did not have a checking account, according to a study sponsored by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in 2011, which Eckert cited during a call with reporters and investors Thursday. In many cases, people who are shut out of the traditional banking system find themselves paying very high fees for transactions as simple as cashing a check.

Wal-Mart said Thursday that its new services, especially for larger money transfers, would be cheaper than the alternatives. Transfers of up to $50 will cost $4.50 and transfers of up to $900 — the maximum customers can send in a day — will cost $9.50. According to a fee estimator on Western Union’s website, sending $900 within the United States could cost as much as $76.

While Wal-Mart-2-Wal-Mart is new, the retailer, the country’s largest, already offered customers a way to transfer money in its stores, through MoneyGram. MoneyGram does not have a $900 limit and allows international transfers.

Nonetheless, MoneyGram’s stock was down more than 15 percent in early afternoon trading. In its annual report, the company said that Wal-Mart accounted for 27 percent of its total fee and investment revenue last year. Financial services make up a relatively small portion of Wal-Mart’s overall revenue, and some analysts said the Wal-Mart-2-Wal-Mart announcement could ultimately be more consequential for companies like MoneyGram and Western Union than the retailer.

—Elizabeth A. Harris, The New York Times