Clarence Fanto: 'Invincibles' put health reform at risk
LENOX -- ‘The Young Invincibles." That must be the title of an upcoming action flick.
But no, it's the media-inspired handle for the generation of twenty- and thirtysomethings who are vigorous, healthy and have a "what, we worry?" attitude toward health insurance.
Trouble is, unless enough of them sign up for "Obamacare" coverage by March 31, the fragile underpinnings of the Affordable Care Act could collapse, resulting in what industry experts call "death spiral" disruptions in the insurance marketplace that would cause premiums for everyone to soar next year, further discouraging enrollment.
The insurance industry argues that the enrollment of young, healthy Americans under the individual mandate is crucial because their limited need for health care would offset the cost of covering older, less healthy citizens who require more doctor and hospital visits and, naturally, file more claims.
So far, according to widespread media reports and polls, many "invincibles" are resisting the insurance requirement, preferring to pay the $95 annual penalty (or 1 percent of annual income, whichever is higher) rather than premiums they consider unnecessary or unaffordable.
The White House is using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, plus endorsements from celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Kerry Washington, and risqué ads to reach the resisters -- a major marketing campaign that even included an appeal from President Obama urging their mothers to try some friendly persuasion.
Ominously, a Harvard University Institute of Politics survey showed only 30 percent of the 18-to-29 age group as likely to sign up for coverage, with 30 percent unlikely and the rest undecided.
The ad campaigns border on the ludicrous. As chronicled by the Denver Post, a "got insurance?" ad by a nonprofit group depicts an alluring young lady standing next to a cutout image of actor Ryan Gosling. 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 ad from the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative shows a young woman beside a man with his arm around her. "OMG, he's hot!" she thinks. "Let's hope he's as easy to get as this birth control. My health insurance covers the pill, which means all I have to worry about is getting him between the covers."
Colorado's state-run health-insurance exchange opened its publicity blitz by having models clad only in their undergarments passing out "Get Covered" signs in downtown Denver.
An Associated Press roundup featured an L.A. sound engineer, 31, railing against "this elitist attitude that politicians think they know what's better for us than ourselves. I'm being forced to do something that's not necessarily in my best interest. I don't need insurance, man. I'm healthy."
Of course, unanticipated illness or injuries from a ski accident or auto crash -- among many other possibilities -- can strike anyone at any time, leading to catastrophic costs that can only be covered by insurance.
But try telling that to headstrong young people convinced that it couldn't happen to them.
You might remind them that no one can drive a vehicle legally without mandatory insurance. Nor can you buy a house with financing from a bank without homeowners' coverage (unless you're a one percenter paying all cash).
The Washington Post reported on a post-2 a.m. effort outside a diner frequented by young singles after leaving the city's club scene on Saturday nights. A volunteer from DC Health Link was trying to persuade them to enroll in an insurance plan.
But some of the Invincibles she encountered weren't buying.
"If I get insurance, it just benefits others. I wouldn't use it," said a 23-year-old construction worker, blissfully ignoring the accident risk in his chosen field.
His companion, also 23, also disavowed any interest because, he insisted, he doesn't get sick and prefers to pay the less-costly fine than sign up for insurance that he wouldn't use.
There's no information yet from the federal government on how many of the 2.1 million newly insured Americans (as of Dec. 31) are in the younger age group.
But in the 14 states that run their own exchanges, the numbers are discouraging. Colorado and Washington state report 18 percent of the recently enrolled are between 18 and 34. In California, it's 21 percent.
The White House has set a national goal of 34 percent enrollment for that age group in order to make "Obamacare" function successfully.
A letter to the editor in the Washington Post offers the most convincing argument yet for the stubborn resisters.
It's from a 28-year-old Florida International University law student who relates how he was hit by a car while bicycling home from the campus. Fortunately, his injuries were relatively minor, but the author, Allan Zullinger of Miami, pointed out that "if the scenario had played out differently, I could have ended up with tens of thousands of dollars of unpaid bills for necessary emergency medical treatment."
Zullinger signed up for coverage and offered this advice:
"Accidents happen. The ‘invincible' mind-set lends itself to increased physical activity and increased risk. Health insurance must be looked at as an investment in yourself and your future. Peace of mind and security make pursuing a life of invincibility a little less daunting."
To reach Clarence Fanto: firstname.lastname@example.org
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