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July 6, 2013

Health insurers fear young people will opt out

(Continued)

About 3 million 18-24 year-olds in the U.S. currently purchase their own insurance. Many pay high prices for scant benefits, with high deductibles and co-pays because they make too much to qualify for Medicaid and have no coverage options from their employers or parents. The Urban Institute estimates that the majority of adults in their 20s will qualify for government subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

Premium hikes could be a disincentive for young people weighing their options. Premiums for people aged 21 to 29 with single coverage who are not eligible for government subsidies would increase by 42 percent under the law, according to an analysis by actuaries at the consulting firm Oliver Wyman. By comparison, an adult in his or her early 60s who would see about a 1 percent average increase in premiums under new federal health rules.

Insurers including America’s Health Insurance Plans and The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association recently wrote to federal health officials warning that they feared low enrollment by young adults and proposed beefed up penalties for opting out. Insurers worry the $100 penalty might not be a strong enough deterrent. The penalties jump to $695 or 2.5 percent of taxable income — whichever is more — by 2016.

“The key to keeping health care affordable is you really want to balance the pool, where you have enough young and healthy people to balance off the care of the older, sicker people who are likely to utilize much more health care services,” said Justine Handelman, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association’s vice president for legislative and regulatory policy.

She said younger people use about a fifth of the services that older beneficiaries do.

Jonathan Gruber, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who helped craft that state’s law, said he thinks the first-year federal penalty should be higher.

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