The Affordable Care Act: Getting Young People on Board

Apr 1, 2014

The deadline to apply for coverage under the Affordable Care Act has come and gone. If you’ve started an application, you have until mid-April to finish it. All year long on Alabama Public Radio, we’re collaborating with to cover the Affordable Care Act. The tally of who signed up is still being finalized. How many young people who took part is a big answered question. APR student reporter Rich Robinson takes this look at the effort to get people his age to sign up.

Bama Covered is a student run organization. The group’s goal is to get as many uninsured people informed about their health options as possible and that meant burning a lot of shoe leather leading up to the March 31st deadline. While they say they don’t target young people specifically, they do use an army of them to spread their message. Josh Carpenter is one of Bama Covered’s founders.

“No matter what you say about Alabama, the traditional parts of the culture, the strong communities, and the respect for institution,” says Carpenter. Those sorts of things are what we’ve drawn upon to build our movement. Students and the sense of service that they have, and the desire to give back, to channel their learning into actual meaningful productivity for the folks in their community.”

Marlan Golden is a University of Alabama student who helps lead outreach efforts for the group in west Alabama. He has devoted his last semester of college to talking to people about their healthcare options.

“This is the system that we have. This is the system that we’re living with and people should know what that means to them,” says Golden. “Everyone loves to talk about it and everyone has an opinion on it and what none of them are talking about is what that means for you.”

Getting younger Americans to sign up for health insurance under the affordable care act all comes down to dollars and cents.

“Of course as you would imagine older people who typically have greater health care costs are going to cost more to insure than younger people.”

That’s Lee Colquitt. He’s the director of the finance department at Auburn University and is an expert on insurance. The affordable care act requires insurance companies to offer older Americans lower premiums, even though they carry a higher risk of getting sick.

“What Obama care is doing, is wanting the younger people to come in to the plan, and in a way subsidizing the elderly population,” says Colquitt. “And so the elderly population is likely to sign up with a greater frequency and so when the younger population does not sign up, that creates a problem for the plans that are in Obamacare.”

Before the Affordable Care Act was passed, private insurers could make anyone with health problems pay up to five times more than the same policy for a healthy young person. Under Obamacare though, insurers aren’t supposed to do that, assuming that young people sign up. Otherwise the main concern is that premiums could rise.

“They’re really trying to put a real big push on the young generation to get them signed up because the premium that they’re pumping into the system will help too offset the losses they expect in the elderly,” says Colquitt. “It’s really critical that they get this type of participation. “

Sarah Varney is a senior correspondent for Keiser Health News. She monitors implementation efforts around the nation.

“The sustainability of insurance in general over the long term is about having a good risk mix. So, we know that young on average use far fewer health care resources than people who are in their middle age and older,” she says. “So, there’s been this big push to try and get young people aged 18 to 34 into their risk pools, so that it balances out the higher uses of care that is happening among older folks.”

The Department of Health and Human Service says only twenty four percent of new insurance enrollees were under the age of 34. That’s below the Obama administration’s target of 40 percent. Still, Varney says that may not be fatal for the Affordable Care Act.

"This is sort of like a calf being born,” says Varney.” And, having to wobble onto its feet. And, those first few moments, in this case, the first few years of these insurance marketplaces are going to be fairly unsteady. “

The next enrollment period is November, and Bama Covered says it will rally the troops to get more young Alabamians to sign up.