Race to Enroll Young and Healthy for New Insurance

Obamacare’s success depends on young Americans. 

Posted: 02/10/2014 01:47 PM EST

Facing a rapidly approaching deadline, the White House and its allies are racing to enroll young people in new insurance plans offered under President Barack Obama's signature health care law, a sweeping effort that underscores how crucial the so-called young invincibles are to the measure's success.

An army of workers and volunteers is targeting people between the ages of 18 and 34 on college campuses, in bars, and even in laundromats. The recruiting effort is based in part on lessons learned from Obama's presidential races, which revolutionized the way campaigns tracked voters.

"On the campaign, you want to be able to find an Obama voter, and you want to get them to vote," said Matt Saniie, who worked on the 2012 campaign's data team and is now analytics director at the organization Enroll America. "In the enrollment world, you want to find someone who is uninsured, and you want to get them to enroll."

More than any other group, participation from the young invincibles will be crucial to the law's success. Young people tend to be healthier, and the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that they need to make up about 40 percent of enrollment in the new health program to balance out the higher costs of insuring older, sicker people.

David Bransfield is among those trying to track down the young and uninsured. Armed with an Apple laptop and a pile of fliers, Bransfield sets up a table nearly every day in the lobby of a University of the District of Columbia classroom building.

"Do you guys have health insurance?" Bransfield asks each time a group of college students passes by.

Some nod yes. A few promise to stop back after class. Others don't bother removing their headphones.

Less than two months before the March 31 sign-up deadline, the administration is lagging behind in meeting its goal. Young adults made up about one-fourth of the 2.2 million people who enrolled in the exchanges through December, the last time the administration released demographic data.

Officials announced in mid-January that 3 million people had enrolled in insurance plans, but officials didn't update demographic details.

Critics of the law say young people were most likely to be turned off by the technical problems that marred the first two months of online sign-ups. They also say some young people will opt to pay the penalty for not enrolling - $95, or 1 percent of income, whichever is higher - rather than pay more for coverage.

White House officials have minimized the slow enrollment by young people, saying they always expected those in their 20s and 30s to enroll toward the end of the sign-up period.

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(Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

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