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Why Enrolling Young People Matters

Originally posted on on January 30, 2012

The Affordable Care Act promises a historic expansion of health insurance coverage in the United States. Many of the newly covered will be young Americans. Roughly 28 percent of 18 to 34  year olds lived without health insurance in 2010—the highest rate among any age group. Already, millions of young adults are taking  advantage of the new ability to join their parent’s plan, but much more work remains. When the Affordable Care Act takes full effect in 2014, millions of young adults will gain eligibility for Medicaid or tax credits to reduce the cost of insurance. Ensuring that the ACA delivers on its promise requires enrolling young Americans in these new options.

The early implementation phase has already been a huge success. The provision that allows young adults to stay on their parent’s insurance until age 26 took effect in the fall of 2010. Young Invincibles and dozens of other organizations reached out to young people across the country with the Getting Covered campaign. The work of these organizations and the publicity surrounding health care reform paid off, as 2.5 million young adults have joined their parent’s plan in the past year and a half.

Young Invincibles also created state-specific toolkits that outline the basics of health insurance for young people who are new to making decisions about health coverage. The toolkits explain coverage options for young adults once they leave school, how to join their parent’s plan, what to do if they have a pre-existing or chronic condition, and more. Know Your Care, a national organization working to educate Americans about the ACA, and dozens of other groups have also targeted young people by coordinating campus events across the country and raising awareness online through Facebook and Twitter.

But there is still plenty left to do. Many young Americans will qualify for Medicaid when the program expands to cover childless low-income adults. Health Insurance Exchanges will offer low- and middle-income young people a new online marketplace with an opportunity to use federal tax credits to purchase affordable insurance.

Federal and state government decision makers must consider how best to reach newly eligible young Americans. Young Invincibles recently released a report with implementation recommendations for states, which highlights the importance of outreach. This summer, Young Invincibles will follow up with a report providing best practices for outreach campaigns directed at young adults.

We already know of a few strategies that work well to reach this group. It is important to educate young adults about their options before they leave school or leave their parent’s plan. Connecting with young adults online, through smartphones, social media, and text messages should also play a key role because young people rely heavily on these forms of communication. Finally, government and non-government organizations must work to make the enrollment process as straightforward as possible so that inexperienced consumers can easily buy coverage. Relying on these principles will ensure that the ACA succeeds in covering the most uninsured age group in the country.