Getting young people to embrace health reform


BALTIMORE, Md. — Young people often criticized as whiny, entitled and irresponsible, may now have the most clout in one of the biggest overhauls of the country’s health system ever.

Enrollment in President Barack Obama’s landmark health reform plan began this month, and particular interest is being paid to the country’s 19 million uninsured young people, who range in age 18 to 34 and are viewed as key to the legislation’s success.

Young healthy people need to buy into the system to help balance the cost of caring for an older population with more health problems who are likely to sign up with less prodding.

“We need a diverse group of people in plans to keep rates reasonable,” said Kathy Westcoat, CEO and president of Health Care Access Maryland, a group helping people enroll in health plans. “If all the sick people sign up and not the healthy people, it could affect rates.”

The so-called invincible generation is often in prime health running marathons, trying Crossfit and other fitness trends and eating anything they want without gaining a pound or spike in their cholesterol. Doctors and regular checkups may not seem a priority and many may believe they can go without.

Smith’s group has found that most young people will qualify for subsidies or free insurance under Medicaid based on their incomes. Many have already been able to get on their parents’ plans under a provision that allows them to stay on until age 26. But like many Americans, young people are having a hard time understanding the details of reform and weeding through misinformation. Many aren’t aware where they sign up for insurance or how to figure out what it will cost them.

One group believes the health exchanges may not be the best place for people to buy insurance. Generation Opportunity, a conservative group funded by the Koch brothers, is using provocative, and some say misinformation-filled ads, to tell young people to diss Obamacare.

Health care plans will hit spots where young people frequent, including college campuses and festivals.