The Young Invincibles: A Key to Obamacare Success

Now that Obamacare is underway, what happened with the much-discussed demographic group known as the “young invincibles”?

You might be surprised.

First,  some context. Young invincibles (ages 18 to 34) are considered critical to the success of the Affordable Care Act because they have relatively low health care needs. As a result, they balance out the insurance risk pool and help cover the costs of those who are sicker and need more care.

If you ask Covered California, the participation of the young invincibles has been a success.

Young invincibles make up about 25 percent of the state’s population, and they accounted for 29 percent of consumer enrollment through Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange.  They also made up 36 percent of those newly enrolled in Medi-Cal.

But that isn’t the full story. I visited Sacramento City College and Sierra College in Rocklin, both community colleges with tens of thousands of students, and spoke with 25 young adults between the ages of 18 and 29.

Not one of them had purchased a plan through Covered California.

As it turns out, even though most of Obamacare’s major provisions went into effect this year, it seems that the most helpful provision for college students actually went into effect in 2010. The popular change allows young adults to remain on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26.

The U.S Department of Health & Human Services reported that 435,000 young adults in California took advantage of the provision in the first year alone.

In my random survey, 14 students were covered under their parents’ plans, while four had coverage through Medi-Cal, and six were uninsured. (The remaining student was covered through TRICARE, the Department of Defense health care program for military families.)

“No one has that much money right now” to pay out of pocket for a plan, Kristina Gonzales of Sierra College said, laughing. Gonzales, 29, has coverage under Medi-Cal for herself and her 12-year-old son, Justin.

Gonzales was already enrolled in Medi-Cal when the Affordable Care Act went into effect, but she believes the law has been beneficial.  Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program for low-income residents, was expanded under Obamacare, opening the program to many who were previously ineligible.

“It’s a very different era,” Nathan Gibson, 23, of Sierra College said. “Everyone’s trying to save money.”

Gibson is currently covered by his parents’ health insurance, but has already started thinking about what he’ll do in the future.

“Hopefully I’ll be full-time at a job at 25, and I’ll already be covered,” through an employer when he reaches age 26, he said.

Other students are planning to shop for a Covered California plan once they age out of their parents’ plans, but haven’t thought about specifics just yet.

“I’m currently covered under my parents, but I turn 26 next year,” said Lauren Lamberto, a student at Sacramento City College.

Lamberto said she was “relieved” when the age extension went into effect.

“My plan is to look into the university options, and if they don’t have anything, I’ll probably look for a plan on Covered California,” she said.

What about the students who remain uninsured?

“I haven’t heard very much about [the law],” Nicholas Lee, a Sac City student, said. Lee, 19, and his family do not currently have health insurance.

When I asked him if he plans to look for coverage in the future, Lee shrugged. “I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask my parents about it.”

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Sarah Hellesen

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