Obamacare blitz: Can US persuade young 'invincibles' to buy health coverage?
Success of the Affordable Care Act could hang on whether about 2 million young and healthy Americans will buy coverage starting Oct. 1, thereby ensuring the viability of the insurance pools. It's a steep climb, made harder by Obamacare foes working to talk them out of it.
In Oregon, folk singers croon about the state's health insurance exchange in artsy television ads. Connecticut is passing out "Get covered" sunscreen at the beach, and a Colorado poster features a young man with a "winner" medal, fists pumped, and the slogan "When insurance companies compete, the only winner is you."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The federal government and states in support of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare, are banking on finding a winning strategy to ensure enough young Americans sign up for the state insurance exchanges, set to open Oct. 1, to keep rates low as promised.
But people like Kay Lamberti, age 29, a former nursing assistant now working a temp job in Providence, R.I., aren't cheering for the health exchanges just yet. Ms. Lamberti has gone for five years without health insurance and doesn't plan on getting it until she gets a higher paying job.
"It's not in the budget," says Lamberti. "I'm pretty healthy at the moment and I know things could happen, having had worked in the healthcare field, but I can't afford it based on that chance."
Lamberti is representative of the newest challenge facing Obamacare, after it survived legal challenges from half the states and 40 repeal attempts by House Republicans: Analysts now are warning that cash-strapped uninsured Americans ages 18 to 34 may stay away from the new insurance markets, potentially driving premiums up instead of down.
Urgency is mounting with the next big deadline coming Oct. 1. Health-insurance exchanges offering uninsured Americans a range of choices must be up and running by then. By April 1, 2014, everyone must be enrolled in a plan. If not enough young adults sign up to offset the cost of insuring older and ill people, insurance rates will rise.
That wouldn't necessarily signal the failure of Obamacare – other big, government programs such as Medicare and Social Security got off to rocky starts but survived, experts say. Yet the political stakes are high, with Republicans still pushing for repeal and public skepticism widespread, and the success of the program next year could hinge on bands of activists across the country trying to convince young and healthy Americans that health insurance is something they can't live without.
"The fear in the Obama administration is you're going to get the sick people signing up and the nonsick not signing up and that would be a disaster. The insurance pools won't work," says Lawrence Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and author of "Health Care Reform and American Politics."
To ensure that doesn't happen, the federal government and some states are expected to spend at least $700 million on marketing and public outreach about the new exchanges from late summer through the fall – and much of it will be aimed at this demographic.