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Continued: Minnesota's young 'invincibles' are key to health insurance overhaul

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 19, 2013 - 4:59 PM

In all, up to 84,000 currently uninsured 18- to 34-year-olds in the state could be eligible for tax credits and another 72,000 could be eligible for Medicaid, according to state data.

Kate McCulloch, a 30-year-old doctoral student at the University of Minnesota, has been paying close attention to the rollout of the exchanges. As a graduate assistant, she’s currently covered under the university’s health plan. But she’ll graduate after the fall semester and faces the prospect of buying insurance on her own.

“I’m a little bit nervous about how the next phase of my career will unfold as far as insurance goes,” said McCulloch, a Chicago native who is studying molecular and cellular biology.

Using a premium calculator on MNsure’s website, McCulloch discovered that her premiums might be lower if she buys coverage through the exchange, where she’ll qualify for tax credits, rather than on her own.

“I’ll probably try to find a way to pay for it no matter what,” she said. “It’s very important to me to have insurance.”

Minnesota has lower rates of uninsured among 18- to 34-year-olds than the national average, according to data from the Young Invincibles organization. About 17 percent are without coverage, compared with 28 percent nationally. Uninsured rates are higher among men than women and among the state’s Hispanics and Latinos (45 percent), African-Americans (29 percent) and Asians (21 percent) than whites (15 percent).

Marketing push

The state is focused on getting the word out about the MNsure exchange to all residents, but reaching young people could be more of a challenge, said Mary Sienko, MNsure’s communications and marketing director.

“Research has shown that those young invincibles don’t often respond to general advertising tactics, like radio and TV,” Sienko said. “And they can be very cynical about ads, too.”

With so many competing digital demands, finding the right place, the right time and right message is key.

“They like things short and sweet,” Sienko said. “ ‘Give me the facts and tell me why it’s important to me.’ ”

Ads featuring the misadventures of Minnesota’s woodsy icon Paul Bunyan and his companion Babe the Blue Ox tested well in focus groups with young people, Sienko said, even though the characters “may not have been a big part of their childhood.”

As part of the state’s $20 million campaign, MNsure will try to reach young people by using social media and mobile apps, as well as showing up at such gathering spots as community colleges and concerts.

The federal government is pressing hard to reach the 19 million uninsured young adults as well. It has teamed with Young Invincibles on a nationwide video contest offering 100 prizes worth $30,000 (with a maximum of $6,500).

“There’s a lack of health insurance literacy in the population as a whole, but certainly among young people,” said the Young Invincibles’ Mishory. “Many don’t have the traditional on-ramp to coverage through the workplace.”

Other states are stepping up the “insurance is cool” message as well. Oregon uses hipster folk singers. Exchange representatives in Connecticut this summer handed out “get covered” sunscreen.

Incentives to buy

Insurance executives as well as Obamacare supporters are banking that making health care affordable will dissuade consumers from opting to pay the penalty for not complying with the individual mandate. In 2014, the penalty is $95 or 1 percent of household income. It rises to $325 or 2 percent of income in 2015 and $695 or 2.5 percent in 2016.

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