Health insurers press millennials to enroll

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 26, 2014 - 5:38 AM

As Monday’s deadline nears, the effort fans out to bars and college campuses.

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MNsure liaison Makeda Norris used the unusual venue of the Happy Gnome Firkins Fest beer event in St. Paul to reach out to young adults.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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It will be no small feat to change Matt ­Standal’s mind about health insurance.

“I haven’t been to the hospital in 20 years,” said Standal, a 28-year-old carpenter. “I don’t get sick. Personally, I don’t need health insurance.”

With Monday’s deadline to buy coverage or be locked out until January, a nationwide push is underway to change those kinds of views among young healthy adults. In Minnesota, insurers have rolled out cheeky ads and MNsure navigators and staffers have fanned out to bars and college campuses to try to reel in young adults.

For the federal health law to work, it’s important to make believers out of young and healthy Minnesotans such as Standal. Healthy people of all ages are needed to spread out the risk that insurers take for paying medical bills of the sick. Enrolling a large cohort of young people is the best way to hedge bets and avoid premium increases in the future.

But so far, about 21 percent of those shopping on the MNsure online health care exchange are in the coveted 19-to-34 age bracket, about half of what federal officials had ­projected.

“A portion of people don’t think about insurance unless it’s in front of them — they’re not feeling well, or they break a leg,” said Dannette Coleman of Medica. “But if they don’t act now, for many of them, it will be too late.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, those who fail to buy insurance by midnight Monday will be locked out of coverage until January — even if they want it. They could also face penalties of $95 or 1 percent of household income, whichever is greater. And, of course, they’ll be on the hook for any of their medical bills for the rest of the year.

A little wiggle room

MNsure officials announced Monday that the agency would provide some flexibility on the deadline in certain situations — where a person has made a “good-faith” effort to enroll by the deadline but was prevented by technical problems from completing an application. Federal officials announced similar plans Tuesday night.

Medica has turned to humor to break through to the millennials, who are notorious procrastinators. A series of billboards and bus ads feature a young woman with a garishly bad hair-dye job, a young man with a unicorn tattoo peeking above a shirt collar, and a hipster with a boombox blasting out his eardrums. The message: Health insurance is one decision you won’t regret.

PreferredOne has an infographic online and on social media comparing the cost of medical bills with other goals.

A concussion? The equivalent of a yearlong beer tab.

A blown-out knee? Arthroscopic surgery will set you back a down payment on a home.

Pregnancy? Oops. That’ll cost you a year of in-state tuition.

But the insurer’s pitch explains that the monthly payment on a catastrophic plan is about the same as a pair of nice jeans. Its silver or platinum plan is about as much as the cable bill or a couple of concert tickets.

Some 17 percent of Minnesotans aged 18 to 34 are uninsured, and according to state data, as many as 84,000 of them could be eligible for tax credits. But MNsure’s website has had so many technical problems that many young people may have written it off this year, particularly because the tax penalties are so low. The penalties increase to $325 per person per year or 2 percent of income next year, and rise again to $695 per person or 2.5 percent of income in 2016.

“People have to be patient,” said Lynn Blewett, a health policy expert and director of the State Health Access Data Assistance Center. “We need government services to be online and web-based, and determining eligibility for public programs and services creates another layer of scrutiny. These are complex systems. There are no shortcuts.”

The feds originally had hoped to sign up 38.5 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds nationwide, which now is unlikely. The most recent figures show that about 25 percent of young U.S. adults have bought coverage.

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  • MNsure liaison Makeda Norris used the unusual venue of the Happy Gnome Firkins Fest beer event in St. Paul to reach out to young adults on Saturday. Monday is the MNsure enrollment deadline.

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