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Should The Young Go Uninsured?

By Arvind Suguness
. 1 Comment(s)

The campaign to disrupt the rapidly approaching rollout of Obamacare this October continues apace. We have written before about the misleading ads from Americans for Prosperity, and now yet another group is getting in on the act. FreedomWorks, an organization which has been fighting efforts to reform our health care system since their inception, last month began a campaign that urges young Americans like myself to “burn their Obamacare draft cards” and seeks to convince us not to purchase health insurance when the new marketplaces open in October. Setting aside the fact that Obamacare draft cards do not actually exist, this is a bad idea for a number of reasons.

The first is that, despite what these groups want you to believe, forgoing insurance is not without risk. It is true that Obamacare does away with the worst abuses of the insurance system: insurance companies cannot deny coverage or drop you from their plans if you are sick, and they are no longer allowed to charge the sick more than the healthy.

But these protections do not mean that if you choose to go uninsured and you suddenly fall ill you will be able to sign up for insurance on the spot. Rather, enrollment in insurance plans is limited to certain periods. In the first year, this period is pretty broad – stretching from October to March – but in subsequent years it will only be from October to December. This means that if you’re uninsured and you get sick, or are in an accident, or are simply the victim of a random act of violence, and it is July, you’re out of luck. You will be stuck paying thousands of dollars in hospital costs.

Fear of financial catastrophe is not all that should motivate young people to buy health insurance, though. There is also the fact that the combination of age rating and subsidies will make insurance a good value for young people. While insurance companies are no longer allowed to charge the sick more than the healthy, they are allowed to vary premiums by up to three times based on age. This means that an eighteen year old will likely be charged premiums that are about a third as much as those of a sixty year old. Given that many young people are not earning large incomes, these premiums will be reduced even more by government subsidies. The end result will be that young adults will pay a fraction of the amount older adults will be paying for the same product.

If the combination of fending off financial ruin and cheap coverage is not enough for young people, there is also the minor matter of their health. While the popular image of young people paints them as the picture of health, that does not mean they cannot benefit from regular checkups and preventive care. The United States Preventive Services Task Force, for example, recommends screening for high cholesterol as early as the age of twenty for those with risk factors such as a family history of coronary artery disease. And young people have not escaped the explosive growth of obesity, which has meant an earlier onset for many chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes that can be detected during a routine visit.

The bottom line, then, is that purchasing insurance is not only the financially responsible thing for young people to do, but it is also good for their health. That conservative groups – who always emphasize the importance of personal responsibility – are now pushing Americans to be irresponsible betrays the nakedly political motivation underlying their campaign. So don’t fall for their games, my fellow young people. This October, do the smart thing and get insured.

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  1. John Corker

    Couldn't have said it any better myself, Arvind. I'd just be careful about lumping all conservative groups into the same boat with the clearly confused FreedomWorks (in the last paragraph). I'm sure that's not what you meant...only the way it could come off to many more moderate (but still proud) conservatives.

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