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How To Get 'Young Invincibles' To Sign Up For Obamacare


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Today in Your Health, our health policy correspondent Julie Rovner answers more of your questions about the Affordable Care Act, the new law better known as Obamacare. First, though, the importance and difficulty of getting younger people to buy health insurance. That group have come to be called the Young Invincibles, because they think they are invincible, that they won't get sick or in an accident. But for the new law to work, it needs the healthiest Americans to sign up for coverage.

Minnesota Public Radio's Elizabeth Stawicki reports.

ELIZABETH STAWICKI, BYLINE: Twenty-four-year-old Robert Bauer, blond, wavy haired and lean, looks the picture of health. A 2011 graduate of the University of Minnesota, he works in organic farm fields three days a week and prides himself on eating well. But he doesn't have health insurance.

ROBERT BAUER: I don't think it's worth the money for me to get health insurance at this point,

STAWICKI: Bauer is healthy. He exercises. He doesn't go to the doctor that often. So he really just isn't that concerned about health insurance.

BAUER: I guess I don't worry that much about it. It's just the mentality of that-couldn't-happen-to-me.

STAWICKI: It's this kind of attitude that's one of the biggest challenges for the Affordable Care Act. Getting young, healthy people to sign up for coverage is critical to keep rates affordable for everyone.

Karen Pollitz is with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. She says, on average, adults in their 20s tend to use less health care than people in their 60s. So we should be actively encouraging young people to sign up. Instead, we systematically uninsured them.

KAREN POLLITZ: We kick them off our policy as soon as they graduate from high school or college. We kick them off of Medicaid on their 19th birthday. So they lose their dependent status just as they reach adulthood, but before, typically, they are able to find a job that provides good health benefits.

STAWICKI: That's changed a little, since the Affordable Care Act now allows children to stay on their parents' policy until age 26. But that doesn't help young people such as Bauer whose mother is uninsured, and whose father is on disability.

Minnesota is one of a few states building its own online insurance marketplace called MNsure. MNsure's executive director, April Todd-Malmlov, says Minnesota will target young adults in two ways: in the social media they use, such as Twitter and Facebook, and the messages themselves.

APRIL TODD-MALMLOV: What really appeals to that younger age group is both affordability - so they feel they just can't afford it - and also communicating the value of insurance, and how valuable it is to have that insurance and why you need it.

STAWICKI: Robert Bauer may get health coverage after all. He'll be attending graduate school at Virginia Tech to study plant and soil science, where he says insurance will cost him $200 a year in out-of-pocket costs. Bauer says he can afford that. After all, it's only about $100 more than the penalty he would have to pay if he chose not to get insurance.

For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Stawicki, in St. Paul.

MONTAGNE: And that story was produced as part of a collaboration between NPR, MPR News and Kaiser Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Stawicki