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Marketing to uninsured youth ramps up

MIAMI — The so-called “young invincibles” are so important to the success of the Affordable Care Act that supporters and detractors are spending millions to reach them with racy ads, social media campaigns and celebrity endorsements. The president is even (gasp) asking their mothers to help convince them to sign up for insurance.

According to a recent Harvard survey, many young people are undecided.

A poll by Harvard’s Institute of Politics shows about 40 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 are on the fence about whether to sign up, with the rest split fairly evenly between those likely to enroll and those who probably won’t.

The survey of 2,000 young adults was conducted from Oct. 30 to Nov. 11, after the first month of enrollment on the health care exchanges and when sign-up problems were at their peak.

Consisting of healthy college students and twenty-somethings, the so-called “young invincible” demographic is the holy grail of the Affordable Care Act. Insurers need their participation to offset the costs of covering older, sicker Americans. If enough young people decide not to buy insurance through state or federal marketplaces, it could throw off the market’s equilibrium and cause insurance rates to rise dramatically the following year.

Ad campaigns in many states are courting undecided young adults. In Colorado, a nonprofit group created a series of provocative “got insurance?” ads. One features a blonde standing next to a life-sized cut-out of celebrity heartthrob Ryan Gosling with the caption, “Hey girl, you’re excited about easy access to birth control and I’m excited about getting to know you. She got insurance.” Another touting “Brosurance” encourages men doing a keg stand not to tap into their beer money to cover medical bills. When the exchange launched, models wearing nothing but underwear and “Get Covered” signs passed out fliers in downtown Denver.

In 2012, 18 million 19 to 34-year-olds lacked insurance — or 27 percent of all people in that age group, according to U.S. census data.

The Obama administration is making the rounds on college campuses to encourage people to sign up and has enlisted celebrities including Lady Gaga and Kerry Washington in its Get Covered social media campaign. Jennifer Hudson and Olivia Wilde were featured in skits pushing the Affordable Care Act on the humor website FunnyorDie.com. In the latest push, an Obama impersonator encourages young adults to tell their friends to get covered in an online rap.

The president himself recently told a group of mothers visiting the Oval Office that: “Moms can tell young people who think they’re invincible that they’re not and prod them to at least get information.”

But the cost of coverage will play the biggest role, experts say.

More than 3 million young adults have health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act because they remained on their parents’ health insurance, according to the feds. The law extended the age that children can stay on their parents’ plan to 26.

Joshua Benson stayed on his parents’ insurance until he turned 26 last year. After that, Benson, who had his pancreas removed and needs daily insulin for his Type 1 diabetes, struggled to find coverage. He was either denied or quoted $2,000 monthly premiums, said the South Florida resident, who works part-time as a grocery store cashier.

He recently enrolled in a platinum plan with no deductible that costs him $170 a month and even covers his endocrinologist. The federal government kicks in another $200 a month.

Benson says he was amused by the Funnyordie.com skits, but said many other ads “are focusing more on getting our attention than actually giving us any valid information.”

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