In the midst of a federal government shutdown, we are nonetheless forging ahead with Obamacare: the new insurance marketplace opened on the first of the month. But despite high traffic at the market website, many Americans, especially young Americans, were not aware that the marketplaces opened on October 1. Many were (and are) also unaware of how exactly the marketplaces could impact them. Rather than focus on the politics of the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA), it's time for both the government and the media to move forward and publicize how the act can help people across the socio-economic spectrum.
A Kaiser poll from June indicated that 45% of young adults had heard nothing about the new marketplaces. A more recent Kaiser poll that focused on the general population found that 53% of those polled did not have a source that they trusted to provide reliable information about the new health care law.
These poll numbers are worrisome because young Americans (ages 18 to 35) are a key part of Obamacare. If they’re not sure what information to trust and opt not to enroll, then the entire system may fail. Youth adults are the least likely group to have health insurance in America —mostly because they’re the group most likely to think they’re not going to need health insurance. But the ACA will help young people with lower salaries afford health care because the government subsidies become more and more generous the less money you make. Many millennials will be able to take advantage of the subsidies to gain access to an affordable health plan, but others, who make more money, might be paying higher premiums than they were before.
Yet if a large number of millennials don’t sign up for Obamacare, premiums will spike for everyone else. So the White House is attempting to encourage young people to sign up through a campaign-style effort involving advertising and speeches.
Why hasn’t the White House’s message gotten through to young people? For one thing, much of the media coverage has focused on the political battle of passing the law. Even the opening of the marketplaces was overshadowed by the fact that the government shut down over an impasse on the act. Additionally, most of the advertising concerning the law has come from its opponents. From March 2010 to June 2013, critics of the law spent $400 million on television ads that refer to it. Comparatively, supporters of the law spent about $75 million dollars on ads that reference the ACA.
Even if millennials are aware of the open enrollment period for health insurance, many of us don’t exactly understand how the marketplace works. Health insurance is inherently complicated — people need to compare the prices of plans, assess premiums versus out-of-pocket costs, figure out which doctors are in their networks, and see if they qualify for subsidies, among other questions.
Rather than rehashing the embittered political battle over Obamacare again and again, now that the marketplaces are open both the government and the media coverage needs to focus on discussing and publicizing how the ACA actually works, why or why not people should sign up for it, and the pros and cons for various groups of people who are currently uninsured. Because without information, we're likely to do nothing — and that would be the biggest shame of all.