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CMS Plans Campaign to Reach Young Adults During Open Enrollment


The effort to reach young adults will allow them to shop for coverage entirely on mobile digital technology. But an economist interviewed earlier this month says it might not be enough.

After a string of announcements that insurers are bolting from healthcare markets across the exchanges, Obama administration officials today announced a renewed effort to reach young adults during this year’s open enrollment period, to encourage those individuals who are still uninsured to sign up on HealthCare.gov.

At the Millennial Outreach and Engagement Summit, the administration announced social media strategies and new digital platforms; in particular, CMS will use a new shopping technology that lets users select coverage from a phone or tablet. All this is aimed at the 20% of young adults who use the internet almost entirely with their phones, according to a statement from CMS. The administration will improve outreach with Twitch, a social video platform used by gamers.

Young adults were the most likely to be uninsured before the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2010, and the provision that allows parents to leave adult children on their plans through age 26 has helped millions stay covered. But many adults ages 18 to 35 have opted to pay penalties despite their eligibility for assistance, according to information from CMS.

“More than 9 in 10 Marketplace-eligible young adults without health insurance have incomes that could qualify them for tax credits to make plans affordable, but that fact hasn’t fully penetrated the millennial community, and we want to change that,” said Kevin Counihan, HealthCare.gov CEO. “This year, we’ll be using new tactics and strategies to reach young adults where they are and deliver the message that they have affordable coverage options.”

Strategies to get more young adults enrolled are essential to improve the risk pool on the marketplaces, because insurers who participate complain that those who have signed up thus far are comparatively older and sicker than expected and using more healthcare, causing insurers to experience losses beyond what was anticipated. Insurers also say that federal rules have made it too easy for people to game the system and wait until they are ill to sign up for coverage, only to cancel it once their healthcare issue is resolved.

It may take more than improved technology to attract young customers. In an interview earlier this month with Vox, Princeton University healthcare economist Uwe E. Reinhardt, PhD, said the penalties for failing to enroll for healthcare are not steep enough, as they are in Germany or Switzerland. (Reinhardt actually first made this prediction in 2010.)

His prescription? Either increase penalties (unlikely, he believes) or give young consumers an offer they can’t refuse—a one-time chance to sign up for healthcare for a much lower price than they would be charged when they are older. If they wait until they are ill, however, all bets are off.

Open enrollment begins November 1, 2016, a week before the voters go to the polls to select the next president.

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