Millions of Young Adults Uninsured as Obamacare Looms

Monday, 03 Jun 2013 01:44 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Convincing more than 2 million uninsured Californians between the ages of 19 and 34 — and other young adults nationwide — to enroll in Obamacare may prove a difficult but vital task.

Participation of young adults is considered crucial to balance the older, sicker patients who are likely to sign up for health insurance when Obamacare is fully implemented next year, The Los Angeles Times reports. But convincing them to spend money on insurance while they are healthy is a "marketing challenge," concedes Larry Levitt, a senior vice president for the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"For kids in their 20s, following convention isn't their first instinct," said Levitt.

Federal law allows young adults to remain on their parents' policies until they are 26 years old, helping some delay signing up for insurance. But millions remain uninsured, and beginning next year they will be required to have insurance or pay a tax penalty of $95 or 1 percent of their household income in the first year of Obamacare.

The fine isn't steep enough to convince people to sign up, some critics say. But Oscar Hidalgo, a spokesman for Covered California, the state's health-insurance exchange, says "young people will need to understand the risks of not having health insurance."

The California exchange is developing advertising to target young adults, telling them insurance will protect their finances if they are hospitalized.

Premiums will vary by age and income. For example, in California, a 21-year-old earning about $16,000 would pay about $45 a month for coverage, but that could rise if more healthy people don't enroll.

California also is extending grants to colleges to educate students about insurance options. Many likely are for coverage through Medicaid or other subsidized programs.

Tamika Butler, California director of the Young Invincibles — a policy and advocacy organization that focuses on enrollment and education — said her agency is telling young people about the benefits of having insurance, and believes that as younger consumers learn more, they'll spread the word.

"Young people are a gateway to not just get insured themselves," she said, "but to get other community members insured."

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