Poll: Young People More Likely to Consider Enrolling in Obamacare Exchanges

A new poll finds the group that was expected to be most difficult (and most important) to enroll in the new insurance exchanges may actually be the most likely to sign up.

How likely are you to consider purchasing insurance through a health insurance exchange? 
National Journal
Sophie Novack
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Sophie Novack
Sept. 4, 2013, 3:30 p.m.

Much of the Af­ford­able Care Act nar­rat­ive re­cently has sur­roun­ded the seem­ing catch-22 of en­rolling young, healthy people in the new in­sur­ance ex­changes: that those most cru­cial to the suc­cess of the ex­changes would also be the most chal­len­ging to re­cruit. Yet a poll re­leased Wed­nes­day chal­lenges some as­sump­tions about the be­ha­vi­or of these coveted young con­sumers.

The poll, con­duc­ted by The Morn­ing Con­sult, a health care policy me­dia com­pany, found that young adults are the most sup­port­ive of the health care law across age groups. A full 56 per­cent of adults 18-29 ap­prove of the law, com­pared with 44 per­cent of adults 30-44; 43 per­cent of adults 45-64; and 37 per­cent of adults 65 and older. Seni­ors are the most strongly op­posed to the law, with 58 per­cent of those 65 and older dis­ap­prov­ing of Obama­care, com­pared with 38 per­cent of young adults 18-29.  

Not only are young adults more sup­port­ive of the law over­all, they are not­ably more likely to con­sider pur­chas­ing in­sur­ance on the ex­changes. The poll found that 35 per­cent of those ages 18-29 are “al­most cer­tain to pur­chase” or “very likely” to con­sider it, while 39 per­cent are about 50-50, and 27 per­cent are “not too likely” or “not at all likely.” As age in­creases, re­spond­ents be­come less likely to con­sider buy­ing cov­er­age. Among seni­ors ages 65 and older, only 8 per­cent are likely to con­sider pur­chas­ing in­sur­ance on the ex­changes, while 76 per­cent are not likely to con­sider it.

The find­ings counter the wide­spread con­cern that gen­er­ally health­i­er young adults may forgo cov­er­age al­to­geth­er and pay the fine in­stead, which would leave the in­sur­ance pool full of older and sick­er in­di­vidu­als and res­ult in premi­um spikes and an un­sus­tain­able mar­ket.

Mi­chael Ram­let, ed­it­or in chief of The Morn­ing Con­sult, told Na­tion­al Journ­al that there are two main reas­ons for the high­er rate of re­cept­ive­ness among young adults: the large amount of edu­ca­tion out­reach re­gard­ing the health law tar­geted to young people, and their high­er com­fort level with pur­chas­ing in­sur­ance on­line and shar­ing in­form­a­tion. “Young people have seen the mes­sage more, and are more re­cept­ive to find­ing it,” Ram­let said. “The com­fort level in shar­ing in­form­a­tion is play­ing a role we hadn’t really ex­pec­ted…. [The ex­changes] are ready-made for a young­er audi­ence.”

He cau­tioned, however, that “just be­cause the re­spond­ents are in­ter­ested in the in­sur­ance ex­changes, it shouldn’t be taken as a de­cision to pur­chase.” De­cisions will likely de­pend on the state, many of which have not yet re­leased premi­um in­form­a­tion. As Ram­let points out, it’s not clear how much con­sid­er­a­tion re­spond­ents gave to price be­fore demon­strat­ing their in­terest.

Mean­while, the poll did not ac­tu­ally find much dif­fer­ence in sup­port across in­come level or in­sur­ance status, two factors that largely de­term­ine the law’s im­pact. The sim­il­ar­ity in re­sponses across in­come and in­sur­ance levels in­dic­ates that cer­tain pop­u­la­tions may be vot­ing against their own in­terests. “In this case, polit­ics and ideo­logy are likely play­ing a role,” Ram­let said.

Look­ing fur­ther ahead, Ram­let noted that the polling across demo­graph­ics also has im­plic­a­tions for the 2014 midterm elec­tions. While the re­gion­al break­down (high­er sup­port for the law in the West and North­east than the South and Mid­w­est) and the ra­cial break­down (dra­mat­ic­ally high­er ap­prov­al for the law among Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans and His­pan­ics than among whites) are not par­tic­u­larly sur­pris­ing, they are po­ten­tially re­flect­ive of the polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment and dif­fer­ent voter demo­graph­ics. With the health care law likely to re­main a di­vis­ive and key is­sue in­to the 2014 and even 2016 elec­tions, can­did­ates may use it to drive ap­prov­al among dif­fer­ent groups. 

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