The group whose participation is most needed in the new exchanges under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is unaware of what the exchanges will offer them, just weeks before they are supposed to roll out.
Just 27 percent of people ages 19 to 29 said they’ve heard of the exchanges, set to open for enrollment Oct. 1, while 70 percent hadn’t, according to research from the Commonwealth Fund. The foundation polled almost 1,900 people between November 2011 and March 2013.
The lack of knowledge was greatest among those the administration most wants to enroll in the exchanges — those who had been uninsured in the past year, and those with the lowest incomes. Just 19 percent of young adults who had been uninsured during the year and 18 percent of low-income young adults were aware of the marketplaces.
The administration has aggressively tried to push enrollment of young people into the exchanges, as their participation is needed for the law’s success. White House officials have said that the participation of 2.7 million young — and presumably healthy — individuals in the exchanges is needed to offset the cost of enrolling older, sicker individuals.
Just this week, the Department of Health and Human Services, working with a nonprofit group called the Young Invincibles, launched a contest trying to encourage young adults to make videos promoting the law’s provisions.
“Young adults’ participation in the nation’s new insurance marketplaces is essential: as a healthier-than-average population, it allows for comprehensive health plans to be offered at affordable prices to all enrollees over time,” the Commonwealth Fund report said. “However, concern is widespread that young adults will continue to go uninsured, despite the new options available to them under the law.”
And Commonwealth researchers — a group that has supported PPACA — insisted that the law can help young adults a lot: Up to 82 percent of nearly 16 million uninsured young U.S. adults would qualify for federal subsidies or Medicaid under Obamacare, they concluded.
Researchers also stressed the importance of Medicaid expansion among states, saying that without it, millions of low-income young adults are at risk of remaining uninsured. According to the survey, nearly 30 percent of young adults who spent a time uninsured during the year were in families with incomes under 100 percent of poverty.
Commonwealth said the number of uninsured young adults has already fallen because of PPACA. The law allows young people to stay on their parents’ health care plans through age 26.
At least 15 million young adults ages 19 to 25 were on their parents’ health insurance policies as of March, up from 13.7 million in 2011, the report found.
The report also stressed the fact that young people want health insurance, but cost is usually the reason that keeps them from it. That finding makes the case that if young people become aware of low-cost health options though Obamacare, they will buy coverage eventually, researchers said.
“There is a stereotype that young adults believe they are ‘invincible’ and don’t want or need health insurance,” said Sara Collins, the report’s lead author. But she noted the report “show that is a myth.” “A typical uninsured young adult is from a low- or middle-income family and works a low-wage job. In general, young adults value health insurance but cannot afford it.”
When offered health insurance benefits through an employer, the report found two-thirds (67 percent) took the coverage. For those who didn’t enroll in an employer health plan, the chief reason they gave were that they were covered by a parent, spouse, or partner (54 percent) or they couldn’t afford the premiums (22 percent). Just 5 percent turned down coverage because they felt they didn't need insurance.