Young Adults Cannon Fodder in War Against ObamaCare

I thought I’d exhausted my reserves of outrage, but that was before some far right-wing organizations plumbed new depths of outrageousness.

FreedomWorks and allies are urging people to opt out of the opportunity to purchase health insurance through the exchanges that will open in October, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a ObamaCare.

The campaign is targeting young adults — and presumably those toward the bottom of the income scale, since most relatively high-earners have employer-sponsored health insurance plans.

Young adults — liberally defined as under 40 — are told they should burn their (fabricated) ObamaCare cards and pay the fine for having no health insurance.

Not to worry, they’re told. You can always get care in a hospital emergency room — or health insurance when you actually need it.

True for the ER. Mostly not for the insurance — unless, as Wonkblogger Sarah Kliff explains, you have a “major change in life circumstances” and manage to have it at just the right time.

What’s meant by “major change in life circumstances” seems not to include having a serious car accident or developing symptoms of diabetes — or a serious mental illness like schizophrenia, which is commonly first experienced in late adolescence or early adulthood.

But FreedomWorks isn’t worried about the well-being of young adults — or older adults either, for that matter.

Its aim is to crash ObamaCare because efforts to kill it outright have failed. Doesn’t mean Congressional Republicans won’t take another stab at crippling it one way or the other, of course.

What with all the talk about defunding and delaying, we’re seemingly heading toward another hostage-taking effort.

Congress has already agreed to a spending package that shorts the U.S. Health and Human Services Department on funds needed to maximize enrollment — more than the agency would have needed if 26 states hadn’t decided to leave the whole exchange business to the fed.

Getting the uninsured — and under-insured — signed up won’t be easy. Only 57% of uninsured Americans even know they will soon have to buy health insurance or pay a fine, according to a recent Gallop poll.

And only 62% of all Americans know that they may be eligible for subsidies to buy it on an exchange, another recent survey found.

It may be especially hard to get young adults into the system. About a quarter think they don’t really need the insurance because they’re “healthy enough.” And many of the much larger number who want it may think they can’t afford it.

Yet everyone agrees that the long-term success of the ACA hinges on getting young adults into the insurance exchange pools. They tend, by and large, to need less health care. So the costs of insuring them offset the costs of insuring older, sicker people, who can no longer be denied coverage or charged inordinate rates.

If there aren’t enough of the healthy sort, insurance premiums will rise, which will drive more of them away, which will drive premium costs up even more. Next thing you know, you’ve got what the experts call a death spiral.

All it would take is 3 million opt-outs and “ObamaCare falls apart for good,” FreedomWorks says. Over-promising a tad, but the administration itself has put a top priority on enrollling at least 2.7 million young adults next year.

It’s nevertheless true that a small fraction — maybe 3% — of young adults who have non-group health insurance now could see premium increases because their incomes will put them over the threshold for subsidies.

The threshold for a single person would be nearly $46,000 if the exchanges were open now. Economist Jonathan Gruber, who helped design the ACA, puts the price tag for these relatively fortunate young people at $1,600-$2,000 a year. And though that may be more than they’re paying now, they’re likely to get better coverage.

FreedomWorks, however, tells all young adults that the health insurance they’ll be able to buy “in most cases will cost more than it’s actually worth.”

I seriously doubt that someone earning upwards of $46,000 a year will decide to risk bankruptcy — not to mention inadequate health care — just because s/he’ll have to pay somewhat more than if health insurers could pick and choose the way they used to.

But the message could resonate with young adults further down the income scale, including the 9 million or so who’ve got no health insurance and and may not know they could get a subsidy to buy it.

Fact of the matter is that health insurance bought on an exchange is a good deal for them. In California, for example, a single minimum wage worker would pay nothing for the lowest cost plan and as little as $44 a month for a plan that’s significantly better.

Declaring freedom from ObamaCare, as FreedomWorks urges, would cost the worker $95 initially, but $250 more in 2015 and even more every year thereafter — something FreedomWork omits from its messages.

The bigger issue, of course, is that no one — not even the so-called young invincibles — can count on freedom from a major accident or illness.

Would the folks at FreedomWorks chose the high-risk course they’re advocating for themselves or their offspring? Of course not.

I hope International Steelworkers President Leo Gerard is right when he says that young uninsured Americans won’t either.

But all concerned parties have a lot of work to do to reach them and bring them into a program that right-wingers are carelessly (in the literal sense) doing their best to wreck.

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