Young Invincibles’ Decision: To Get Coverage, Or Not

United States (KaiserHealth) – Lizzie Bunnen’s medical insurance ran out this fall. She had every intention of buying new, subsidized coverage under the health law in October.

Ashante Thurston, John Riascos and Julieth Riascos speak with Mario Ricart an insurance agent with Sunshine Life and Health Advisors about purchasing insurance under the health law at a kiosk setup at the Mall of Americas on December 11 in Miami. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“Then obviously I heard all the coverage about how terrible the website was,” said Bunnen, 26, a George Washington University grad student who lives in Virginia. “And I said, OK I’ll wait. And I kept waiting. And November came around and the website was still terrible. And I was going to do it over Thanksgiving.”

But she didn’t.

The success of the Affordable Care Act’s online marketplaces may depend on people like Lizzie Bunnen.

If healthy adults her age don’t sign up, the risk is that predominantly older and sicker members will drive up costs and threaten the portals’ future. With the Dec. 23 deadline approaching for January coverage, and at the end of March for all 2014 enrollment, the clock is ticking on what many believe is one of the health law’s biggest challenges.

As a result, ACA backers have stepped up efforts to persuade Bunnen and others aged 18 to their mid-30s to give Obamacare a second chance on newly improved websites such as healthcare.gov.

“Remind your friends and your peers — imagine what happens if you get sick, what happens with the massive bills” if there’s no health insurance, President Obama told a group of young people at the White House this month.

The president called on radio hosts and bartenders to publicize Obamacare. First Lady Michelle Obama wants families to talk to loved ones “about what health care reform can mean to them” over the holidays.

Young Invincibles, a healthcare consumer group, would like young adults to ask for Obamacare for a holiday gift.

The Colorado Consumer Health Initiative invokes pregnancy, bike crashes, ski injuries and handstands on beer kegs as reasons for young adults to buy coverage.

Health law supporters also lined up Adam Levine — Maroon 5 frontman and People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive — to urge young folks to get insured.

Still, a poll released Dec. 4 by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics suggested the recruitment challenge is substantial. More than half of the uninsured young adults who responded disapproved of the Affordable Care Act.

Only 20 percent said they would “definitely” or “probably” sign up.

“I personally haven’t been on Covered California,” that state’s website for enrolling in the new coverage, said Jasun Boles, 32, a California construction worker. “As I’m listening to the news they’re saying, whoa, the online thing isn’t working. If you enter your personal information, it might be stolen. I’m thinking I’m just going to wait.”

Few numbers have been published on enrollees’ ages so far. California has said 21 percent of those who signed up through early December are between the ages of 18 and 34 while Kentucky reports that about 20 percent of those buying plans through late November are in the same category.

“It’s still a little bit too early to tell” how the balance will turn out, said Peter Cunningham, a senior fellow at the nonprofit Center for Studying Health System Change. “The California experience is probably better than what a lot of people expected and maybe as good as we can expect” in the first year.

If total signups meet expectations across the country, the White House figures nearly 40 percent of enrollees will be in that category. But the Department of Health and Human Services hasn’t published age breakdowns for enrollees in healthcare.gov, the troubled online marketplace it is running for 36 states.

Even though older subscribers pay substantially more in premiums and the health law contains “reinsurance” and other safety valves for plans that lose money in the early years, some believe disproportionate enrollment of older and sicker people could drive up premiums and threaten the policies’ long-term stability.

While December enrollment will probably rise with a better functioning site, “at this juncture it seems unlikely that the administration will meet its goals for young adult enrollment,” said Conor Ryan, a health data analyst with the American Action Forum, a right-leaning think tank.

New York singer and actress Gabrielle Sterbenz waited until finishing a tour of Britain and Ireland in October to enroll recently on New York’s insurance portal to replace what she called “minimal” coverage now.

After subsidies she’s paying $60 a month for a medium-level silver plan, she said.

“The New York site is great,” said Sterbenz, 36. “I’m getting full coverage. I found a plan that my voice doctor is on and my regular primary care [doctor] and my ob-gyn — and I’m paying less,” thanks to the health law’s tax credits. “I know actors and musicians who have been looking forward to Obamacare kicking in.”

New York’s online exchange has been praised along with California’s and Kentucky’s as working relatively well. As the federal portal and other troubled sites such as Maryland’s improve, the portion of younger, healthier applicants should grow, suggests Timothy Jost, a law professor and health policy specialist at Washington and Lee University.

“It seems to me that a person who really needs health insurance will spend a day trying to enroll,” Web problems or not, Jost said. “A healthy person will probably wait until he or she can enroll in 20 minutes.”

Travis Hoium, 31, a contract writer for The Motley Fool financial site was able to sign up on MNsure, Minnesota’s troubled portal. “The signup was pretty painless,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that it was anything harder than signing up for anything similar online.”

Ineligible for subsidies, he enrolled in a high-benefit gold plan for $165 a month, he said.

Even perfect software was unlikely to persuade Kerry Haack, 31, a homemaker in Lewisville, Idaho, to enroll in a plan created by the health law.

“The government’s role is not to tell people that they need to buy health insurance,” she said. “It’s a wrongheaded law, and I’m opposed to [Idaho] implementing it.”

While she lacks coverage now, her recently graduated husband expects to take a job offering a family health plan next year, which she’ll sign up for, she said.

Nor will California’s Jasun Boles probably sign up this month, he said.

Even if he gets hurt and racks up a $20,000 emergency room bill, he figures that’s affordable next to the $70,000 he already owes in student debt.

He realizes under the health law he’ll pay a penalty if he lacks coverage. (Next year it’s $95 or 1 percent of income.) But, he said, “it’s cheaper for me to pay that once rather than pay the full price of health care for the first year.”

Having missed her Thanksgiving-break chance to sign up, Lizzie Bunnen was going to get it done in early December. Then finals got in the way. Then travel.

She finally enrolled in a gold plan on healthcare.gov without “too much difficulty,” she said. But she didn’t immediately get a confirming email from either the portal or the insurer.

“So I’m concerned that my application never actually made it” to the insurance company, she said.

– Provided by Kaiser Health News.

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  1. pipedream

    You do know that if your health insurance is costing you $.97 a month that the actual cost is coming out of other taxpayer’s pockets, don’t you? It isn’t costing 97 cents, but you aren’t paying it – other hard-working Americans are covering the cost for you AND paying higher premiums for their own coverage.

    • boptherabbit

      Sure they are, and they’re paying for my $4.00 a gallon milk, and someones section 8 housing, and etc. Do you have any idea why I have to pay a sales tax, or income tax, or the outrageous taxes I pay on gasoline? Did you know we’re (USA) one of the few FREE countries in the world that doesn’t make sure it’s citizens have health insurance (and please check your facts before you tell me about all the woes that the countries that do have it have when it comes to medical care), yet WE pay to make sure the rest of the world is treated for health issues?

      • Dieselrider

        Let’s set the record straight. You have never- NEVER not had the right to get health care in this country. You have always had access to health care. What you are bawling about and what the liberals want is someone else to pay for your health care. Whether by paying your insurance premium or by paying the bill when you get health care.

        What is being forced on the American people by people like yourself, overzealous politicians and the insurance industry is a way to make others pay for everyone’s coverage. Just like Social Security and Medicare this too will fail eventually. Socialism does not work, never has and never will.

        What is coming once this program fails is another bailout of the insurance industry by the American Taxpayer.

        And at some point when there is just not enough money coming from the taxpayers 9which are becoming fewer and fewer each year) and the US credit status slips enough that other countries will no longer loan the money to keep things afloat, you along with the rest of us will have to learn what true poverty is.

        • boptherabbit

          That’s absolute BS. Not many people I know are asking someone else to pay for their healthcare. What we want is affordable healthcare. It’s pure greed my the insurance companies, health facilities, prescription drug manufacturers, etc. that have driven the cost of healthcare to to an impossible level. Real healthcare cost way to much of a families expendable income.
          And I’m sorry, but I don’t see Social Security and Medicare failing. If the government would pay back all the monies they’ve raped from these programs (Which,BTW,were never instituted to be used for anything but SS and Med.)the programs would be in a much better position.
          Perhaps if we had a fair tax system where the rich, and big business paid their fair share of taxes, instead of putting all the burden on the working man, we’d have a much better economy. And maybe if pigs had wings, they’d fly.

          • Dieselrider

            Actually, health insurance itself is to blame for the high cost of health care. Back when companies covered all the health care for their employees, no one (especially the employees) just what the cost was as they didn’t have to pay it. They only started worrying about it once some or all of the cost started falling on them. You want affordable heath insurance? Go back to a pay as you go system and eliminate the insurance industry.

            As to SS and medicare: Just where would the government get the money to pay back all they spent out of those systems, genius? Yes it was wrong to have spent it on every pork project that came along through the years. However, unless you have a time machine there is no way to get the money back and mathematical facts will not let either of those programs last much longer. There are not enough people paying into them any longer to keep them afloat. Do the math, even if you eliminate every other government expense there will not be enough money to keep those two programs intact for more than a couple decades. The same will happen to the government welfare health system better known as Obamacare.

            As to taxes:A fair tax system would have the 50%of the country that pay no taxes right now, paying THEIR fair share as well. Perhaps a flat tax. But that only works if EVERYONE (including you) pay the same percentage. If you think business is the problem, start your own and lead by example. I guarantee that in a very short time you would see just how difficult and expensive it is to run a business in this Country. There is way more pressure on businesses in this country now that it is no wonder we have trouble competing globally.

            Also do your research. 20% of Americans pay 80% of the taxes that are paid annually to the feds.

            Wake up and smell the coffee there, Bop. there is no way that the whole country can get health insurance for$.97 per month. Some others will be paying very high premiums and all those working men you are talking about will be paying higher taxes just to pay for your coverage. It may only cost you $.97/ month but you and I both know that is not the REAL cost don’t we? You’re either part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem. I know which side you fall on-do you?

    • Dieselrider

      You hit the nail right on the head, Pipedream.

      • boptherabbit

        Shouls I assume your another person that feels you shouldn’t get sick if you can’t afford it?

  2. boptherabbit

    What does not having healthcare cost? Heck, only a fine of about $95. Well, that’s a simpletons way of thinking. What did not having healthcare cost my wife and I ? It cost us our home that we’d so far invested about $40,000 in, when I injured myself, didn’t have health insurance, and got eaten alive by healthcare cost. A little more than $95, huh? Folks always think that this kind of thing doesn’t happen to them. I did. I was wrong. I was a simpleton. I know it’s a little too late to do anything about our loss, but you never know what’s down the road. Thanks to the ACA, we’re now insured, and with the subsidies, we’re paying $.97 a month. That’s 97 CENTS. There’s so much bull being said by people that don’t want the ACA to succeed that it’s scaring people away from even looking into it. They should. It does work. You never know what’s down the road.

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