Health Experts Takedown Right-Wing Study Claiming Obamacare Hurts Young People

A new study purporting to show that young people will pay significantly more for health insurance under Obamacare has been met with resounding criticism from health policy experts.

The study, conducted and released by the right-leaning American Action Forum (AAF), paints a stark picture for young people hoping to purchase insurance under the new law.

"Due to the ACA’s sweeping market reforms," the study finds, "rates for low-premium plans have increased exponentially between 2013 and 2014. In fact, on average, a healthy 30-year-old male nonsmoker will see his lowest cost insurance option increase 260 percent."

Chris Holt, Director of Health Care Policy at the AAF, discussed the study's findings with PolicyMic via e-mail.

“Our study, at the American Action Forum, found a staggering increase in premium costs for a healthy 30-year-old man. With price increases in every state and an average increase of 260% it demonstrates a real challenge for the administration, as they seek to lure young adults onto the exchanges. They need those young adults to help subsidize the older and sicker individuals who will be purchasing health insurance. Ultimately the success or failure of the president's signature legislative achievement could depend on his ability to convince young people to purchase health insurance despite having created financial incentives for them to do just the opposite.”

The study's findings, however, have been met with fierce criticism from many in the health policy community. Dr. Christine Eibner, Senior Economist at the RAND Corporation, disputed many of the study's assertions in comments to PolicyMic.

"First, it’s important to keep in mind that this analysis if focused on a specific subset of individuals — young, non-smoking men — and does not represent the change in premiums for all Americans."

Dr. Eibner also added that, "in comparing the individual’s expected premium spending to the individual mandate penalty, the AAF analysis does not account for the fact that enrollees get something for their money when they buy health insurance — namely lower out-of-pocket costs for medical services and reduced risk of experiencing a catastrophic health-related expenditure. In contrast, paying the penalty has no benefit to the individual."

Dr. Eibner is not the only expert in the field to take issue with the study's findings. Dr. Claire Brindis, Director of the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California-San Francisco, also expressed her reservations about the study.

"I am very concerned about the report’s approach, which suggests the purpose is to scare rather than inform. For example, the title asserts that a premium spiral is 'impending,' even though the text of the article acknowledges that predicting how young adults will respond to the individual mandate is an 'inexact science.'"

"The statement that premiums for a healthy 30-year-old male will rise by 260% is misleading," she continued, "because it does not take into account subsidies that will be available to many young adults through the exchange, nor the catastrophic health plans that some young adults will be eligible to purchase. Nor does it take into account that some young adults will be newly eligible for Medicaid in states that choose to expand it."

All of the attention on these sorts of ACA studies may be moot, however. The importance of these studies may not lie in their individual findings, but rather their cumulative effects on public opinion. Dr. Robert Blendon, the Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at Harvard University, rejected the importance of individual studies and instead placed more emphasis on the impression that such studies create in the public's mind.

"At the end of the day the question is, 'What’s the overall picture an average voter in Lousiana and Illinois and Indiana’s going to have of this bill?' And so it’s going to be a picture of all the things that come out and how the media covers it. And that’s really important. If I read on the front page of the Indianapolis Star this study, and that’s all I see, I’m going to say this is very harmful to young people. If I see another study and it says they’re getting it for $50 a month or something, it’s something else."

"This is going to be part of the campaign, but it’s not a one-month campaign," he added, noting the importance of the 2014 midterm elections in determining the law's fate. "What's building up over between now and November is the picture that the various groups want in the public's mind...[T]he campaign’s going to run between now and November 2014, where both sides are going to try to get the picture."

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Stephen Calabria

Stephen is interested in all things regarding the US Senate and international relations. Born in NJ and raised on Army bases in Germany, Stephen graduated from American University in 2009. He is a former intern in the Office of the Senate Majority Leader, and former intern with Talking Points Memo.Opinions expressed here are purely his own.

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