By: Kate Rogers
The long-term success of the Affordable Care Act is heavily dependent on young (and presumably healthy) individuals signing up for insurance coverage to create a diverse coverage pool and contain premium costs. But early statics and surveys show young Americans aren’t flocking to sign up.
The latest Harvard Institute of Politics poll shows young people without insurance are “unlikely to enroll” when it comes time to buy their own policies with less than one-third saying they would sign up for coverage. In addition, 57% of 18 to 29 year olds disapprove of ObamaCare, with half (51%) saying it will bring higher costs and 40% saying it will bring worse care.
Many factors could be keeping this crucial age group sitting on the sidelines: apathy, potential lack of interest or awareness and cost, but some experts place the blame on the lack of working technology with the exchanges.
The federal exchange, healthcare.gov, has been plagued with glitches and error messages from its Oct. 1 that have prevented consumers from signing up. After a massive upgrade on Dec. 2, the marketplacecan now handle up to 50,000 people at once and 800,000 people in a day. While it’s a big improvement, the user numbers still pale in comparison to major e-retail sites like Walmart.com (WMT) and Amazon.com (AMZN) that handle millions of visitors each day.
Mike Hostetler, founder and CEO of AppendTo, a company that has built websites for Time Magazine, Pitney Bowes, Lenovo.com and Celebrity Cruises, says the three most important things in getting young people to revisit a site are responsive web design across desktops, tablets and mobile, clean and clear user experiences and a quick load time. A criteria list that healthcare.gov fails to meet.
“When technology is mishandled, it’s not only a tech mistake, it’s a human mistake,” Hostetler says. “It’s like walking down the street and having someone yell at you. With Healthcare.gov, it’s a hit to the brand. When a site doesn’t work, frustration builds and it is an immediate turnoff.”
Do Millennials Expect Perfection?
Young people in particular expect efficiency and greatness from tech, says Manhattan Institute scholar Yevgeniy Feyman.
“These are people that were raised on well-functioning sites,” he says. “They expect a high standard from websites. In the past five years, the quality of websites has exploded with fully-optimized sites on mobile where you can browse on your phone. Even government sites like the IRS and the Social Security function relatively well comparatively to Healthcare.gov.”
Aaron Smith, executive director of the Young Invincibles, an organization researching and representing millennials (ages 18 to 34) on health- care reform says the site is not a deterrent to younger people enrolling in coverage. Young Invincibles hosts events to help enroll people on the exchanges, but he declined to comment on how many people the Washington D.C.-based group had enrolled thus far.
“I think the website is very important to young people regarding the ease with which they can sign up and get covered,” Smith says. “We have been signing people up through Healthcare.gov for the past few weeks and have been able to use the site fairly well, although in the beginning there were serious glitches and wait times. The young people we worked with were surprisingly patient.”
Smith says that buying health insurance is not like purchasing an iPad or shopping on Amazon.com, and the people he has encountered are taking it seriously. “Those are people who have this on their mind already, so for them coming back in a few weeks is not the end of the world if it means they can actually get health insurance,” he says.
Confusion or lack of understanding about the president’s signature legislation could also be causing younger people to avoid signing up.
Matthew Grossman, a junior at American University who attended Obama’s MSNBC taping this week told FOX News “The ACA has its flaws. [There is] a huge portion for and against it. I consider myself engaged and active in the political scene and I truly couldn’t tell you what the ACA does.”
Christopher Gens, another American University junior says he supports the president and told FOX News “I just support him, at least on the Affordable Care Act. I feel like the United States, you know, we have great technology for health-care, but it’s not available to everybody… I think it’s about time we went to a more universal plan.”
Does Staying on Your Parents’ Plan till 26 Matter?
While ObamaCare mandates that every individual in the country have insurance by the end of open enrollment period on April 1, 2014, one of the most popular provisions in the ACA is that it permits adult children up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance plan—three years longer than allowed in the past.
Lebrit Nickerson, an American University freshman that supports the president told FOX News “I do know he is losing a lot of the young people in [the millennial] age group, but honestly people my age are just happy they can stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until 26,” Nickerson says. “With living expenses, education—that is an expense we don’t have.”
Smith from Young Invincibles says that three million young people have enrolled on the new insurance marketplaces, but that there are still 19 million young uninsured Americans that could potentially be flocking to Healthcare.gov to enroll.
“It’s important that the site be able to handle this traffic towards the end of enrollment,” he says, referring to the end of December, and in particular Dec. 23–the date people must enroll to have coverage by Jan. 1, 2014.
“What happens when 500,000 people are on the site at the same time? Will it slow down? It’s important the site is working really well at the end.”
But Larry Kocot, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, isn’t hopeful and says the ‘frustration factor’ that many experienced from the site’s launch will linger.
“The other thing that is very difficult are perceptions about the problems continue to linger as well,” Kocot says. “Even though they may not be real. You can fix problems, but the press will report on them for weeks after the fix and public perception will remain. We are in a ‘now society’ and this is a ‘now generation.’”