Why the Young Should Hate Obamacare

Obama can't use his celebrity friends to convince young voters the Affordable Care Act is a good idea.

Cartoon showing Obamacare as a wrecked ambulance.
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With the help of celebrity endorsements, speeches and videos, Barack Obama overwhelmingly won the support of young people in both the 2008 and 2012 elections. Now Obama is calling on his celebrity friends to make one more sales pitch to young people. This time, he is trying to sell them the Affordable Care Act.  Young people should reject this third attempt at winning them over.

Last week, Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the President, convened a meeting of celebrities to recruit them to sell the ACA – and Obama himself stopped in the meetingA White House official  reportedly said that these celebrities were chosen because they "expressed a personal interest in educating young people about the Affordable Care Act." Actor Kal Penn (a former Obama administration official), comedian Amy Poehler, Funny or Die's Mike Farah and YouTube's Daniel Kellison attended. What about Oprah? She sent a representative, as did singer Alicia Keys.

Celebrities hawk all types of unpopular products to young people – but they might be facing their biggest challenge yet with Obamacare.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Obamacare.]

The ACA's individual mandate requires most Americans to have health insurance or pay a fine starting January 1, 2014.  According to a presentation from a recent White House briefing, for the marketplace exchanges to work, 2.7 million of the 7 million people they hope will enroll in the first year must be between the ages of 18 and 35. Of the uninsured between 18 and 35, 96 percent have no chronic conditions. This is in stark contrast to the only half of those between 55 and 64 who have no chronic conditions. 

That's the real key to the challenge that these celebrities will have in convincing young people to enroll in Obamacare – these young, healthy people will be paying to cover the costs of older, generally less healthy people. 

Typically, insurers adjust premium costs based on how much you are expected to cost them in payouts, and take factors such as your age into account. Yet the ACA limits this practice, mandating that insurers can only charge older people, for example, as much as three times the rate charged to younger people. One study predicts a 42 percent premium cost increase for those between the ages of 21 and 29.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

These celebrities will have to come up with a rather slick sales pitch because for most young Americans, this insurance will be a pretty bad deal. This isn't selling Doritos, Budweiser or a Ram Truck. That's why using celebrities is just one part of a larger marketing plan to reach young people. The administration is working to enlist everyone from mothers to the National Football League to help with this difficult job.

The administration is using parent-activist groups, organizing wine-and-cheese parties for mothers and working with women's magazines to reach young people through their mothers. But the administration shouldn't be so sure that mothers are going to jump on the ACA promotion bandwagon as they too become aware of the impact Obamacare will have on health insurance costs for their children.

Earlier this summer, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she was in talks with the NFL to help promote new insurance options and that the NFL had been "very actively and enthusiastically engaged" in such discussions. She is reportedly also trying to recruit other sports leagues, such as the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, to do the selling of the ACA to young people.

[VOTE: Should Obama Delay the Individual Mandate of the Affordable Care Act?]

But it seems that the NFL realized that promoting Obamacare to its audience is a losing game. After these discussions became public, Brian McCarthy, vice president of communications at the NFL announced, "We currently have no plans to engage in this area and have had no substantive contact with the administration about [the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's] implementation." No partnership with a sports league has been announced.