The federal government is targeting four Florida cities in its quest to enroll enough young Americans to keep its new Obamacare plans affordable.
The Obama administration is beginning a new push to attract 18 to 34-year-olds. They are a most desirable demographic because they are statistically healthier and use fewer medical services.
While Obamacare has not proven to be the dismal draw among young adults that some predicted, enrollment numbers among that age group are not high enough.
Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services released its first data on age. It showed that 24 percent of enrollees so far are between the ages of 18 and 24.
Analysts had pegged 40 percent as the goal for young adults because that’s the proportion of young adults among those eligible to buy an Obamacare plan.
To improve the enrollment outlook, officials are focusing on Miami, Tampa and Orlando in its top 10 cities. A fourth city, Jacksonville, is in the federal government’s top 20 list of hot spots for uninsured young adults.
Thirty-eight percent of 18 to 34-year-olds in Florida have no health coverage. The rate is 43 percent uninsured among young adult men and 33 percent for young adult women.
In Miami, a whopping 53 percent of young adults are uninsured.
The Obama administration has launched an all-platforms campaign.
In December, the White House conducted a youth summit to educate young leaders to educate about enrollment options. In January, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius traveled to Miami and Tampa as part of the youth push.
The campaign includes door-to-door canvassing in targeted neighborhoods, faith leaders talking about enrollment at their congregations, parent education programs to prepare them to speak with their children and testimonials about the importance of health care. The administration is also using social media, such as twitter chats and google hangouts to get the word out.
Along with an online ad campaign, ads will be run during such shows as Family Guy, Revolution, Arrow, Vampire Diaries, the X Factor and sports programming.
The culmination is National Youth Enrollment Day on Feb. 15.
There’s a reason young adults are the target.
Health insurance rates are driven, in part, by how much the insured rack up in health expenses. Because the Affordable Care Act makes it illegal, for the first time, for insurance companies to deny coverage or charge higher rates to the sick, analysts predict that crowd will flock to the new marketplace. The law also limits how much more insurers can charge older enrollees, making plans cheaper for many older Americans.
“Older adults will be paying premiums that do not fully cover their expected medical expenses, while younger adults will be paying premiums that more than cover their expenses,” explained a Kaiser Family Foundation report.
If there are not enough healthy takers to offset older and sicker enrollees, rates could spike.
Healthy people of all ages can help offset the sick. Officials are betting, though, that attracting more young Americans will help balance the risk pool.
Young adults are a hard target. They are less likely to buy insurance because of a belief, among some, that they are invincible and don’t need it.
That’s not the only reason that insurance rates are low among that group, said Jen Mishory, deputy director, Young Invincibles, a group founded in 2009 to inject the young adult voice to the healthcare debate.
“We’re seeing a scenario where young people over the last couple of decades have lost access to employer coverage,” she said.
Higher unemployment is partly to blame. There’s more reliance on contractors, who often don’t qualify for benefits. There has been a shift to employers dropping coverage for full-time workers, too.
“Even before the Great Recession, if you look at numbers of full-time workers, the drop in employer coverage for young people is about 13 percent,” Mishory said.
With its pockets of young adults who are uninsured in large numbers, Florida is fertile ground for the youth push.
Florida CHAIN, healthcare advocacy group, recently held an enrollment event at Pensacola State College. It has another planned at Tallahassee Community College.
“We talk to young people and tell them, just like the rest of us, you could be an accident or injury away from financial disaster, said Leah Barber-Heinz, the group’s chief executive officer.
Enrollment is open through March 31 for anyone who wants a plan in 2014.
“We’re pretty excited about the numbers of young people who are enrolling,” Mishory said. “We are anticipating that it will ramp up as we get closer to March 31.”
Procrastination isn’t just a stereotype about the youth.
In the Massachusetts health reform program,, enrollment among young adults spiked in the last three months.
So far, the trend has been similar with the national model.
By the 13th week of Obamacare enrollment, about 275,000 young adults had signed up. That compares with fewer than 50,000 who had enrolled by week nine.
Healthcare advocates have begun to downplay the importance of the numbers. They are now shying away from the 40 percent goal, while continuing to make the pitch that young adults need coverage for their own protection.
A few months ago, Young Invincibles openly touted the 40 percent goal. Now the organization is citing Kaiser Family Foundation research, showing that getting fewer young adults enrolled will only slightly cut into health insurers’ profit margins.
“We’re really working on it making sure young people know their options,” Mishory said.
“We know that when young people are covered, they’re better protected in terms of their health and financial security.”
Top cities of uninsured young adults
6. Northern Jersey
10. San Antonio
13. St. Louis
15. Charlotte, NC
17. New Orleans
20. McAllen, Texas
Includes cities in states served by the federal marketplace.
Source: Department of Health and Human Services
Americans have until Feb. 15 to sign up for coverage if they want to be enrolled by March 1.
The final deadline to enroll for coverage in 2014 is March 31.