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Brandon Merritt: Obamacare may be the best deal yet for youth

A recent Daily Mail editorial stating that the Affordable Care Act  is a bad deal for young people is, simply put, wrong.

Citing a Wall Street Journal article, the editorial suggests that young people will opt to pay the penalty instead of purchasing health insurance, undermining the success of the ACA.

This assumption is not grounded in reality. In fact, recent evidence convincingly points in the other direction, suggesting that young people will be more likely to buy insurance than to pay the penalty, even if it is more expensive.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll this month found that 74 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 believe they need health insurance, and that more than two out of three say health insurance is worth the cost.

Still, young adults are the least likely group to have health insurance. In 2011, for example, more than 27 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds lacked insurance.

 This age group also earns less on average and is less likely to have health insurance offered through an employer than older counterparts. However, when employer-sponsored health insurance is available, this age group takes it up at almost identical rates as the older demographic.

Americans, regardless of age, place a similar importance on health insurance. Younger Americans are simply less likely to have a job that provides it.

Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act addresses this through the health insurance exchanges, known as the Marketplace, allowing people who do not get insurance through their employers to purchase coverage.

Additionally, people with incomes under 400 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $45,960 for an individual) will receive assistance on a sliding income scale to help cover the cost of insurance premiums sold in the Marketplace.

In other words, the young will have access to affordable health insurance as insurers compete for their business.

It's also worth noting that these plans must meet minimum benefits standards, such as maternity coverage and free annual check-ups, unlike many of the individual market "catastrophic" plans sold today, which have strict limits on benefits or payouts.  

Certainly there will be those who decide to pay the penalty instead of spending more on insurance. However, as the polls and data show, the majority will choose health coverage.

Obamacare may just be the best deal yet for young Americans.  

Merritt is health policy analyst for the W.Va. Center on Budget and Policy.


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