Obamacare’s Young People Problem

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The success of President Obama’s healthcare law hinges on young people signing up for coverage. But a new poll shows that Americans under 30 are less familiar with the law than the average adult.


Thirty-seven percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 say they are not familiar with the Affordable Care Act, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday, while 63 percent say they are familiar with it. Among all adults, 28 percent say they are unfamiliar and 72 percent say they are familiar.

If young people are unfamiliar with the law, that may mean they are less likely to enroll for health insurance coverage. That’s a big problem.


The White House is depending on younger, healthier Americans to sign up for coverage through the exchanges in order to hold the price of insurance premiums down and balance out the cost of enrollees who are older and more likely to have health problems.

Out of the 7 million originally estimated to sign up for plans under Obamacare by the end of March, 2.7 million would need to be between the ages of 18 and 35 to keep costs down, according to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein and Sarah Kliff.

It’s unclear how many young people have signed up for coverage so far. The first batch of data supplied by the Obama administration showed 106,000 people have enrolled in plans since October, but the numbers did not break out how many were younger enrollees.

Information from individual states showed that older and sicker people who need coverage were more likely to sign up than young people. Most who enrolled in California were older. Three quarters of those who signed up in Kentucky were over 35, according to the Associated Press.


So why aren’t young people signing up for plans?

First, there’s concern that the insurance coverage provided on the exchanges won’t be affordable, although Obama disputes this notion.


There has also been a wave of negative publicity surrounding the law thanks to the website problems. On top of that, many young, healthy people view themselves as “invincible” and not in need of insurance.

The White House and its supporters have tried desperately to get young people signed up for plans (remember those “brosurance” ads?). Obama will redouble his efforts on that front starting Tuesday.


The president is set to give a speech selling the benefits of the law at the White House in the afternoon. That’s part of a broader offensive by Obama and Democrats to improve the public’s perception of the law, which has kept sinking over the past few months.

Now, Obama just has to hope that opponents of the law stop showing up at college tailgate parties.


Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.

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