Only 1 in 4 Young Adults Knows About Health Care Exchanges

Young adults uneducated on health care options.

A new survey shows just 27 percent young people are aware that uninsured adults will have access to new health care exchanges starting in October. Above, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., speaks about the Affordable Care Act.

A new survey shows just 27 percent young people are aware that uninsured adults will have access to new health care exchanges starting in October. Above, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., speaks about the Affordable Care Act.

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Young voters were an integral part of President Barack Obama's electoral success and the president will need them again if his signature health care legislation is going to succeed.

There's just one problem – young Americans aren't informed about what their new options will be under the president's Affordable Care Act.

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A new survey released Wednesday by the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that studies barriers to health care access, shows just 27 percent of 19 to 29-year-olds are aware that in October uninsured adults will have access to new health care exchanges where they can purchase tax-deductible insurance packages, and those living below the poverty line may gain more access to Medicaid. Poorer and uninsured young voters were the most likely to be out of the loop.

"There is concern that many young adults will remain without health insurance in 2014 despite the Affordable Care Act's reforms," the study says.

While a Kaiser Family Foundation poll in June showed 77 percent of young adults listed having health insurance as "very important," the most recent survey reveals that with less than two months until the online health care exchanges open up, a core demographic is still incredibly underinformed.

The Obama administration is counting on at least 3 million young adults to purchase insurance in order to offset the higher costs of insuring older and sicker Americans. That is where a coalition of health care outreach groups are coming together.

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Experts have expressed concern that the 19 million young, uninsured Americans won't rush to buy health insurance even when the exchanges become available because many view themselves as "invincible."

This fear has prompted health care advocacy groups like Enroll America and Young Invincibles to get proactive and team up with the Department of Health and Human Services to launch an aggressive education campaign online through their website, on Twitter, Facebook and with apps. Young Invincibles announced a video contest this summer that will reward winners $30,000 in cash prizes for crafting the best ad promoting the health care exchanges.

"The challenge that we have seen in terms of enrolling young people is not that different than the one we face in enrolling all uninsured Americans," says Jessica Barbara Brown, spokeswoman for Enroll America, a nonpartisan group working to get more Americans health insurance. "Right now most of the people who are eligible under the exchange are not aware they exist. The first challenge is raising awareness.

The Commonwealth Fund study did show that information gaps were the key obstacle keeping young adults from getting insured. But similar to when it was announced that young adults could stay on their parents' health insurance under the Affordable Care Act until they were 26, the more time and education outreach went on, the more young people got covered. 

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Between 2011 and 2013, 1.3 million more young adults became covered because they were added to their parents insurance.

"With aggressive state and federal efforts to educate young adults about their new insurance

options, experience suggests that awareness of, and enrollment in, these new options will climb over time," the survey says.

But extensive efforts on college campuses, on Facebook, Twitter and on the airwaves still may not be enough to get young people flooding to the exchanges. 

Nearly 7 in 10 young adults accept insurance through their employer and pay for it, but signing up to pay between $30 and a few hundred dollars per month–depending on the state and an individual's income level– could be a major turnoff for underemployed young people juggling the costs of adulthood.

"The polling indicates that the mass majority of young people want to have health insurance, but the biggest obstacle was going to be the cost," Brown says.

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  • Corrected 08/23/13: A previous version of this article misstated the ratio of young adults aware of the health care exchanges.