Health ReformPolicy & LawPublic Health

Want the Young and Invincible to Buy Into Obamacare? Answer These 3 Questions

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obamacareWith enrollment for health insurance exchanges growing near, young Americans are about to get an earful.

obamacareWith enrollment for health insurance exchanges growing near, young Americans are about to get an earful.

The Obama administration expects that some 2.7 million healthy adults under 35 will need to enroll in insurance exchanges to make the premium prices work for everyone. To make that happen, it’s kicked off a reportedly $700 million educational campaign to recruit young people to the exchanges.

I’m a member of the young, healthy and seemingly invincible demographic that the Obama administration is trying to reach. I rock climb on the weekends and ran my first marathon last month — followed three days later by a hike up Mount Saint Helen’s. My employer does offer health insurance, but I choose to purchase my own individual plan, so I’ve been through the insurance shopping process. I’ve also been in the situation a lot of twenty-somethings are in today: underemployed and without insurance.

It makes sense why the administration has tapped its Hollywood network to join the campaign. But in the effort of convincing young people to buy insurance, celebs, social media and TV commercials will only go so far. There are some of the key questions I think Generation Y needs to see clearly addressed by this campaign.

How do I make the math work?

Yes, we know we could get sick or injured unexpectedly. But we also live in a world of instant gratification, and when you’re pinching pennies, it’s hard to ignore the basic math: the penalty for not having insurance isn’t nearly as costly as buying health insurance.

It’s the same reason people skip renter’s insurance even though they know their home could be broken into, or pass on a roadside assistance plan knowing that their car could break down in the middle of the highway.

That’s why it’s important to tell young people that, or if, there are plans tailored for us. In Massachusetts’s exchange, young people gravitated to a high-deductible plan with lower monthly premiums. If a similar option will be available in every state, young people should know about it.

Why should I pay more to help everyone else?

The fact that the administration says it needs healthy young people to make the exchanges work makes healthy young people – or at least this one – feel, frankly, a little used. Millennials have already been scared into thinking that Social Security won’t exist by the time we reach retirement – now we need to buy health insurance so that the older people who use the healthcare system more can afford it?

What are the real penalties?

I’ve had one real health scare in my life, and it came when I was just out of college, working part-time and newly dropped off of my parents’ health plan. I did price research before every diagnostic test and lab I had done. Although I haven’t crunched the numbers, I think not having insurance actually worked in my favor. With a small self-pay discount here and a little price cut for paying up front there, I probably saved money in the long run. The research and savings let me put what little money I had directly toward labs, diagnostic tests and medicines that likely would not have been fully covered under a plan I could afford anyway.

At the time I wasn’t thinking about who was going to cover those additional costs, as I’m sure most people relieved to save money on healthcare don’t. If there are societal implications to being uninsured, my generation needs some education about what those are.

Originally published at

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