Why young invincibles need Obamacare

Young people might be "healthier" than seniors, but seniors don't get in parasailing accidents.

Not as tough as he looks. Image credit: Getty

An ongoing concern for the future success of the Affordable Care Act is the extent to which “young invincibles” – Americans ages 18 to 34 – are signing up for health care coverage. While the White House reports that total enrollment in Obamacare now tops 11.5 million – a crucial milestone – the continued viability of Obamacare depends on significant participation from the young.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported in January 2015 that 35 percent of enrollees at that point were under age 34 and that 26 percent were between ages 18-34. While this is good news, it’s still shy of the 40 percent target  that officials have been hoping for.

An ongoing challenge for Obamacare boosters will be convincing young Americans that they need coverage – and not just because their premiums will help subsidize health care costs for older, sicker people.

While it’s true that younger people are less prone to suffering from expensive, chronic diseases, such as diabetes, they are far more likely than older Americans to suffer from catastrophic – and costly – injuries and accidents. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), unintentional, non-fatal injuries caused more than $6.8 billion in hospitalization costs for people ages 20-34 in 2005 (the last year for which data are available).

The CDC also finds that young people are far more likely than older people to be treated in emergency rooms for accidental injuries. For example, people ages 25-34 were about as twice as likely as people ages 55-64 to be injured in car accidents, about five times as likely to be hurt in assaults, and more likely to be poisoned, bitten or to suffer unintentional “cuts and piercings.” They were also almost as likely to fall.

Not so invincible - Leading causes of nonfatal injuries treated in hospital emergency departments – 2013

Types of unintentional injuries
Ages 25-34Ages 55-64
Struck by object599,340261,840
Occupant in moving vehicle526,303227,620
Source: Centers for Disease Control

Younger Americans are obviously more active than older Americans – and they take more risks. While opting out of coverage may seem to some like a cost-efficient decision, it may end up to be a costly gamble that many young Americans end up losing.

An earlier version of this piece appeared in July 2014.