White House Aims to Boost Number of Insured Young Adults

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By Sara Hansard

Sept. 27 — Educating uninsured young adults about health insurance subsidies will be one of the top initiatives to get them covered, the White House announced Sept. 27.

More than nine in 10 uninsured young adults who are eligible to buy Affordable Care Act marketplace plans have incomes that could qualify them for tax credit subsidies, “but that fact hasn’t fully penetrated the millennial community and we want to change that,” HealthCare.gov Chief Executive Officer Kevin Counihan said in a statement.

The White House made the announcement about initiatives to reach uninsured young adults during the Millennial Outreach and Enrollment Summit held Sept. 27.

Reaching people ages 18 to 34 is a top administration priority during the upcoming 2017 open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 1, because it's crucial to making ACA health plans more affordable. While 5.2 million young adults have gained coverage since 2013, 15 percent are still uninsured, twice the national average, Jen Mishory, executive director of the Young Invincibles, said at the White House conference.

Forty-eight percent of the remaining uninsured are between the ages of 19 and 34, Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America, said at the conference.

If all millennials were enrolled, health plans premiums for could be lowered substantially “rather than raising rates substantially [by] double digits as many plans have done,” said Scott Streator, senior vice president of the market and product group at CareSource, a nonprofit health plan based on Ohio.

Over the next several weeks the Department of Health and Human Services will announce other new enrollment initiatives aimed at young adults, HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said at the White House conference. The fourth national youth enrollment day will be held Dec. 10 with “hundreds of events across the country connecting millennials to coverage,” Mishory said.

Other Steps to Reach Young Adults

The HHS has already begun taking steps to reach more young people. In June the administration announced it will partner with the Internal Revenue Service to send information to 2015 tax filers that paid the fee or claimed an exemption for 2015 (120 HCDR, 6/22/16). About 45 percent of taxpayers paying a penalty or claiming an exemption were under age 35, compared with about 30 percent of all taxpayers in 2014.

But House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) Sept. 21 sent a letter to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen objecting to “any action by the Administration to improperly use sensitive taxpayer information to identify and harass individuals who have rejected the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) by choosing to pay a tax rather than be forced into a health care plan they don’t need and don’t want.”

During the fourth open enrollment, which lasts through Jan. 31, consumers will be able to shop for coverage as well as enroll using mobile devices, the CMS said. One in five millennials access the internet exclusively through mobile devices, the CMS said.

Young Adult Social Media Outreach Campaign

HHS's ACA enrollment partners will organize a young adult social media outreach campaign to communicate on digital platforms Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Other actions announced Sept. 27 by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services include using online outreach that targets young adults, such as gaming platform Twitch, which has 10 million daily users.

Kyla King, marketing manager for Michigan-based insurer Priority Health, said the company has responded to that challenge by offering incentives to lower out-of-pocket costs. The company has developed an online cost estimator that calculates out-of-pocket costs for common procedures.

Priority Health plan members can receive Visa gift cards worth $50 to $200 when they use facilities priced at or below fair market prices, King said.

“We added services to our plans that we know young people care about and will find more value in the marketplace,” King said. For example, Priority Health was the first plan in Michigan to fully cover medically necessary acupuncture and massage therapy in its marketplace plans, she said.

“We know these strategies are working,” King said. “Our ACA population is getting younger,” with the share of 26-to-34-year-olds rising from 12 percent in 2015 to 14 percent in 2016, while keeping the share of 18-to-25-year-olds at 9 percent both years despite an increase in the number of enrollees, King said.

Medicaid, Defense Dept. Initiatives

In its announcement about new enrollment initiatives, the HHS also said it is working with Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program to get information to 19-year-olds who are no longer eligible for those programs, as well as the Department of Defense's transition programs helping service members losing military coverage.

Millennials are the most racially diverse group in the U.S., with about 40 percent identifying as a person of color, Christy Gamble, director of health policy and legislative affairs for the Black Women's Health Imperative, told the White House conference. There are racial disparities in millennial enrollment, with black and Hispanic millennials having uninsured rates of about 20.7 percent and 19.9 percent respectively, more than double the national rate, she said.

“Millennials of color face significant life-threatening health disparities that make it imperative … for them to have health coverage so that they can live long and productive and healthy lives,” Gamble said. The black community suffers from disproportionately high rates of diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus and cervical cancer, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sara Hansard in Washington at shansard@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kendra Casey Plank at kcasey@bna.com

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