Health Care
4:15 pm
Mon January 27, 2014

Young Invincibles Vital to Health Insurance Exchanges, But They're Slowly Signing Up

Wyatt Severs at work in his shop in Murray.
Wyatt Severs at work in his shop in Murray.

With the deadline for open enrollment coming in March, the people behind Kentucky’s health insurance exchange kynect are reaching out to an important group of people.

Young Invincibles are those uninsured and between 18 and 30 years old. Wyatt Severs fits in that group. He’s a 30-year-old artist and teacher.

Severs’ pit bull boxer mix Parker enthusiastically welcomes anyone who comes into the artist’s woodshop, which is located behind the Murray Art Guild. The floor is covered with sawdust and a table Severs is making for someone in Knoxville sits unassembled on his work table.

While he stays healthy most of the time, he does get minor injuries because of the work he does.

“I need it all the time because I tend to get banged up,” he said. “But I’ve just paid for my doctor visits as I’ve needed them. And I don’t catch a cold but once every couple of years. So it’s worked out.”

Severs isn’t covered by his parents’ health insurance since he’s older than 26, and like many young invincibles he has procrastinated since the marketplace opened last October.

I've been putting it off until the deadline," he said.  "And I had to so I did. And it worked out good."

I've been putting it off until the deadline... And I had to so I did. And it worked out good.

With selling his tables and benches and teaching workshops for children, Severs has a low enough income to qualify for Medicaid. He said his coverage is paid for 100 percent.

Young people like Severs often procrastinate or are indifferent when it comes to health insurance, which means fewer of them have signed up for health care since the marketplace opened in October. But they’re vital for making the state and federal health exchanges work.

Health care officials across the nation are concerned about the number of young adults signing up for health care because they are key to keeping premiums low and steady. Young people tend to be healthier and can help balance the costs of older people who need more medical attention.

That’s why Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange Executive Director Carrie Banahan and others at the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services are reaching out to young invincibles any way they can.

For example, if you live in Kentucky and have spent any time watching your favorite television shows on Hulu you’ve probably seen an ad with smiling, stylized characters touting kynect. Banahan said the ad is part of a campaign to reach young uninsured people.

“We recently got some results back from Hulu, and we’re very excited that we had a 95 percent view rate,” she said. “I mean that’s super fabulous.”

In Kentucky, more than 52,000 young adults between 18 and 34 make up nearly a third of all kynect enrollees as of January 17th. But, almost 44,000 of those young enrollees are Medicaid eligible with the remaining almost 8,600  signing up for other plans.

Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services spokesperson Gwenda Bond said the department had no goal for young invincibles.

“We’ve been happy with our enrollment so far,” she said.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that the goal for young adults enrolling through state or federal exchanges should be around the same proportion that age group represents in the pool of potential individual market enrollees. That includes people who are uninsured or buying their own insurance and are not eligible for Medicaid or affordable employer coverage.

The number the foundation came up with to cover costs was 40 percent. The number of young Kentuckians who have enrolled in the individual marketplace and did not qualify for Medicaid was nearly 22 percent.

Bond said since this is the first year for kynect sign ups, she’s not concerned.

“I don’t think anybody anticipated that we would get everyone, especially healthy people who may not need to access health care right away, enrolled in the first year or even the second year,” she said. “We see this as a multi-year process and that’s how the Affordable Care Act was designed. I think sometimes there’s this implication in some of the reporting that ‘Oh, we’re doomed if we don’t get all these people in the first year,’ but that was never really the overarching plan.”

Banahan said she expects the number of young adults to increase in coming years as fines for not having health insurance increase.

“It’s $95 dollars per member per household or one percent of income whichever is greater this year,” she said. “And it increases to the point where it’s going to hurt and it’s gonna make people say, ‘Well, it’s cheaper to get coverage.’”

Kentucky isn’t alone in a smaller percentage of young invincibles signing up for health care through the exchanges. Nationally, 24 percent of enrollees in state and federal exchanges are in the young invincibles category. But the federal exchange saw an eight-fold increase in young adults signing up and kynect could also see an increase in that age range as the March open enrollment deadline nears.