When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010, one of the biggest unknowns was this: Would enough young, healthier Americans sign up for Obamacare to keep the fledgling health insurance marketplace viable?
“Young invincibles,” many believed, were critical for balancing out the older, sicker – and more expensive – enrollees who would otherwise dominate the market. Without enough younger participants, experts feared, the market would see a “death spiral” of rising premiums that could lead to its eventual collapse.
Experts moreover had cause to worry. In 2010, the uninsured rate among 19-to-25 year olds was 34.1 percent – more than double the uninsured rate among the population as a whole.
But since 2010, more than 5.7 million young Americans ages 19-to-25 have gained coverage, according to government figures, including significant numbers of African-Americans, Latinos and other minorities. And of the 8.84 million Americans who chose a plan during the most recent open enrollment period, 28 percent were millennials ages 18-to-34.
How is Obamacare winning millennials?
For one thing, many young Americans actually want coverage – “young invincibles” turns out to be a misnomer. A 2013 survey by Kaiser, for example, found that among adults ages 18-25, only 11 percent said they were “healthy enough that I don’t really need insurance.” Meanwhile, 65 percent said they were worried about “not being able to pay medical bills for a serious illness or accident,” and 44 percent worried about meeting bills for routine health care.
What was holding young Americans back from getting coverage was something else: Cost. Or rather, perceptions of cost.