Insight: Poll shows healthy young adults may keep Obamacare afloat
File photo of an Obamacare pamphlet at a Tea Party rally in Littleton (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Korey Kormick, 29, has not had health insurance for at least a decade. His job, as a contract employee directing chess tournaments and coaching kids in the fundamentals of the game, doesn't offer it, and he hasn't been able to afford coverage on the individual market.
Feeling medically "invincible" — as the conventional wisdom holds 19-to-34-year-olds do — never had much to do with it. That is especially after he fell out the back of a pickup truck packed with chess equipment, breaking his arm in 13 places, on a recent trip through Alabama to a chess tournament.
"I'm looking forward to getting insurance because it hasn't been an option up until now," Kormick said of the new plans for 2014 coverage to be offered under President Barack Obama's healthcare reform. "I'm just hoping the cost is reasonable."
A new Reuters/Ipsos poll of 1,053 uninsured Americans, and detailed interviews with 51 of the respondents, shows that Kormick is not an outlier: Obamacare may attract enough of the young healthy adults it needs to buy insurance to offset the costs of covering sicker Americans and keep the system afloat financially.
While four in 10 of the uninsured of all ages support the 2010 law, according to the poll, the result indicated half of those 18 through 34 do so. Among the younger respondents, a little more than one-third have attempted to buy health insurance in the past, suggesting pent-up demand for the insurance plans to be sold through online exchanges in each state beginning October 1.
One-third of young adults in the poll said they are "very" or "somewhat" likely to buy insurance through their state's exchange.
If half of that proportion of the nation's young and healthy follow through, the White House would easily meet its goal of getting 2.7 million young adults — out of about 16 million uninsured 19-to-29-year-olds — to buy Obamacare insurance for 2014.
The results are part of Reuters' ongoing online poll. Among all uninsured, the credibility interval, a measure of the poll's accuracy, was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
"Contrary to commonly held beliefs, young adults do want affordable health coverage," said Dr David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit that studies healthcare systems.
The young demographic is so pivotal to the success of Obamacare that one of the law's fiercest opponents, the libertarian group FreedomWorks, is running a campaign on social and traditional media aimed at persuading Americans in their 20s not to buy insurance on the exchanges.
Just a few months ago, many commentators thought that would be easy. Uninsured "young invincibles," went the thinking, would see little need to buy health coverage and would figure they had better uses for a few hundred dollars every month than paying insurance premiums.
CARROTS AND STICKS
Interviews with several dozen young adults suggest the instances where Obamacare will appeal to this group, tied to personal experience and the role of subsidies and penalties.
Lacking access to a doctor, veterinary technician April Garcia, 30, tries to diagnose herself based on what she knows about dogs and cats when she feels ill. When she had "horrible abdominal pains" recently, she ruled out appendicitis and a blocked colon, either of which could be fatal.
Because Garcia does not have insurance through her job at an animal hospital in Rockville, Maryland, she treated herself with pro-biotics for a more routine gastrointestinal upset, but was in pain for four days. She is following news about Maryland's exchange and hopes to get coverage.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll found, as other surveys have, that a majority of the young uninsured are unaware of how the new law will affect them. But interviews with the respondents showed that many who had not heard of the exchanges or were disinclined to enroll did an about-face when presented with basic information about the new coverage.
In particular, learning that they would be fined for being uninsured in 2014 (1 percent of income, with a minimum of $95) is affecting young adults' thinking. At the same time, a majority are expected to qualify for government subsidies to purchase coverage based on income.
Barry Mall, 34, of Mamaroneck, New York, became uninsured when he lost a warehouse job two years ago. He has not gone to a doctor or dentist since, despite toothaches and occasional minor illnesses, which he waited out or treated with whatever he could buy without a prescription.
"The idea of paying a penalty and getting nothing for it seems worse than buying it," he said.