Obamacare Is Not Yet on the Radar Screens of Some Young People

The success of the Affordable Care Act hinges largely on young Americans signing on, but too few are even thinking about it.

Posted: 11/22/2013 02:13 PM EST

For the last few months, Fred Williams has worked at the gleaming MGM Grand Casino in downtown Detroit. He works four days a week, typically from noon to about 8 p.m. But as a part-time employee, he is without medical insurance. As a healthy 23-year-old man who has little in the way of health issues, he said he has felt no particular interest in exploring the Affordable Care Act.

“I don’t have a particular reason why I haven’t signed on or looked into it,” Williams said, in an interview with BET.com. “My health has been pretty good so far and I haven’t really given much thought to it. I guess, if I had to go to the hospital, I would have to pay for it out of my own money. But I’ve been in good health.”

If the Affordable Care Act is to attain the success that President Obama and others desire, it will require people like Williams to enroll. It is designed to provide health care at a reasonable cost to people like Williams, who is part of the millions of uninsured Americans. It is also designed to address the even larger problem of uninsured African-Americans, people like Williams.

Young adults in the ages of 18 to 34 are uninsured at almost twice the rate of older adults. For the system to work in the way the Obama administration envisions, younger Americans will be needed to pay into the system to allow the program to meet its fiscal goals.

Starting in 2014, under the Affordable Care Act, the new health care reform law known commonly as “Obamacare,” citizens will have new health insurance options and will be legally required to have coverage.

These options include the ability to join a parent’s plan until age 26 as well as expanded Medicaid eligibility. It also allows for tax credits to help pay for health insurance and improved student health insurance plans. Additionally, it opens the door for catastrophic plans that provide emergency coverage at a lower upfront cost.

In interviews with several uninsured African-Americans, many said they simply had not thought seriously about obtaining health care coverage because they had not been confronted by any significant medical expenses.

“It would be another expense that I can’t afford,” said one 29-year-old woman who works in a restaurant in Atlanta.

Some, however, said they had tried to apply on the federal government’s website, but explained that they were unable to get to the crucial points on the site.

“I look at Obama care as a real source of support but can’t get past the place on the website to apply,” said Vernisha Stanley, a 34-year-old resident of Los Angeles who has been unemployed for more than three years after working as a customer service manager for a bank.

She said that she views obtaining medical coverage from the Affordable Care Act as being crucial to her well-being. Her mother and sister are now being treated for various forms of cancer.

“You see every day about people younger than I am who die from cancer,” she said in an interview with BET.com. “I look at it as an imperative.”

What will it take to get more young people to sign up in greater numbers for the plan?

“There are two potent arguments that can be made,” said Michael K. Fauntroy, a professor of political science at Howard University, speaking with BET.com. “The first is political. If young people want President Obama to be successful, they should sign up, because that will help him, politically.”

The second argument, Fauntroy said, was even more significant. “People are being financially bankrupted by various medical problems they face. That has been especially true in the African-American community, which has been disproportionately hurt by either no insurance or by poor insurance plans that don’t protect them adequately.”

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(Photo: Gary S Chapman/Getty Images)

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