Young Adults Are Key to Health Care Reform; But There Are Strong Incentives to Remain Uninsured
FOX NEWS -- (Note: This is from January 2010, before Obamacare passed.) For the first time ever, the federal government is going to require that everybody obtain health insurance coverage. For those who have insurance through their employers, the so-called individual mandate may have very little impact. But for young adults, many of whom are not currently covered, the health care bill will add a new and costly expense to their budgets.
MP: For the age group below 35 years, there were more than 28 million uninsured Americans in 2009 and that represented 56% of the 50.6 million uninsured (data here), see chart above. For the 18-34 year age group, there were almost 21 million uninsured, which is 41% of the total number of uninsured.
The federal government wants to require young, healthy people to buy insurance because if they don't, premiums for everyone else will go up. Insurance companies need low-maintenance, young customers on their rolls so they can raise money to cover benefits for less-healthy people the health care bill will require them to insure.
"If you don't have a mandate that gets in the young people who are cheaper, you're going to see average premiums rise," said Jim Kessler, vice president for policy with Third Way. "There's no way around that." But both houses passed two other reforms that create an incentive not to buy insurance.
1. The bills allow patients to basically purchase insurance whenever they want.
"You can literally buy an insurance policy in the ambulance on the way to the hospital," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office. "You could imagine a situation in which you would pay the fines, stay out of the insurance pool, and at the moment when you need it, you go out and buy it."
2. The other disincentive is that both houses change how much older customers can be charged relative to younger customers. Analysts agree this will drive up the cost for young people, though it's not clear by how much.
"If you charge people a fair price, then a 50-to-60-year-old should pay about six times as much as a 20-year-old," said John Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis. But he noted that the Senate bill says older people can be charged only three times as much; the House bill says they can be charged two times as much. "So we're going to penalize low-income young people in order to lower the premiums for older wealthier people."
"Young people are going to bear a disproportionate cost in this reform," Holtz-Eakin said. The Senate tries to make it easier on the young by offering them a bare-bones insurance plan that would be less expensive than all the others. This is perhaps the keystone for the entire reform effort, because if young healthy people don't get into the insurance pool, everything else -- especially cost containment -- could fall apart.
MP: In other words, it seems like any real cost containment in the health care overhaul is pure fantasy, and will never happen under any conditions. Either you force 20 million young people to purchase insurance they aren't willing to buy now and overall costs go up, or the young people (and older people as well) pay the fine and remain uninsured until they need insurance (in the ambulance on the way to the hospital) and overall costs go up.