- - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Kids, ask your mom about it. Wives, talk to your husbands about it. Lonely single females, talk to your cat about it, or have a cup of hot cocoa with your pajama-clad hipster friend.

But whatever you do, don’t actually take it upon yourself to learn about Obamacare or do the math to realize what a bad deal health care reform is.

Proponents of Obamacare — most recently White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, who encouraged young women to recruit men because “women are responsible” and birth control is “free” — are leaning heavily on the friends and family of the young and uninsured to promote the law’s insurance marketplaces instead of taking the message directly to this critical constituency.

There’s a method to this madness, though.

Obamacare, like many progressive policies, doesn’t work on a logical level, and its supporters know they stand to gain little from attempting to appeal to the minds or financial sensibilities of young, healthy Americans. Thus, the White House and Enroll America (the nonprofit tasked with promoting the law) are relying on other people to pick up their slack and put social pressure to conform on the skeptics.

The famously goofy advertising campaigns that have triggered more eye-rolls than successful sign-ups are overwhelmingly targeting millennials, who are both a difficult demographic to reach and the single most critical demographic to the law’s success.

Without strong buy-in from healthy 20- and 30-somethings, Obamacare will be unable to subsidize health insurance for older, sicker Americans — and the law’s haphazard rollout and myriad cancellations are giving young people few reasons to take the bait.

Because the law requires that insurance companies offer the same unlimited, uncapped benefits to everyone, regardless of their health, these companies need to cover as many healthy people who won’t use their benefits as possible in order to remain profitable. When a healthy person pays $2,000 for insurance but only uses $200 in benefits, it helps the company offset the costs of insuring a sick person who used $10,000 in benefits but paid the same $2,000 premium.

People in the prime of their youth subsidize everyone else by paying for health insurance they don’t need, and if they realize the raw deal they’re getting and drop off, insurance companies will run out of money. These companies are already feeling the financial crunch created by the uncapped benefits requirements. Hence, the drastic premium hikes and cancellations that millions of Americans are now facing.

The White House has no greater fear than millennials rejecting Obamacare en masse, but that’s looking more and more like the smart-money play. With studies estimating that health care premiums for young people will rise by 169 percent, and some colleges already charging 12 times as much for health insurance this year as in 2011, many healthy people will opt to pay the small tax penalty, go without insurance, and cover any medical bills on their own.

This is the nightmare scenario for the law. Without the participation of the healthiest demographics, insurance companies won’t be able to cover sick people and remain profitable.

To this very real threat, the White House has responded by ramping up the social pressure, attempting to take its quirky ads viral, and subtly infusing its campaign with the identity politicking that helped deliver the youth and women’s vote to Democrats in 2012.

All these campaigns have done, though, is put a fresh and brightly colored coat of paint on a car with no transmission — and millennials still aren’t buying.

The health care law needs about 40 percent of insurance exchange enrollees to be between the ages of 18 and 35. Thus far, only 25 percent are. Part of this can be blamed on the law’s haphazard rollout, and it certainly didn’t help that Healthcare.gov crashed on the day the White House made its largest push for millennial enrollment. The real reason for low enrollment isn’t a faulty website or pathetic advertising; it’s bad policy.

Obamacare’s short-term, solvable failures (such as the website) are distracting from the larger, more fatal problems with the law. It’s reliant on the voluntary participation of young people, and so long as millennials continue doing the math instead of buckling to manufactured social pressure, no amount of cat advertisements or free birth control will be able to save Obamacare from itself.

Michael Moroney, 25, is director of public affairs at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, where Kevin Palmer, 23, is communications coordinator.

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