- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 26, 2014

Young people aren’t signing up fast enough for President Obama’s health law — except in the District, which is actually doing a pretty good job of getting them enrolled by going to where the youngsters are.

City officials say they knew the majority of the uninsured population here was young, so they zeroed in on that age group from the beginning, trying to figure out ways to reach distinct groups and using unorthodox outreach methods such as touting Obamacare outside Air Jordan sneaker releases and late-night hot spots.

“Because our geographic area is pretty small, we can do that,” said Mila Kofman, executive director for D.C. Health Link, the District’s health exchange.

Plus, the nation’s capital has been a magnet for young professionals in recent years, and not all of them gain employer-based health insurance.

“There are lots of youngish, independent consultants who work for themselves, essentially, and this is the first opportunity for them to have coverage,” Ms. Kofman said.

Contractors have said they also focused on fatherless males, people who are underemployed or young people who work construction jobs that do not provide health benefits.

Time is of the essence for the D.C. exchange and for Obamacare’s markets across the country, because young adults are not enrolling in the law’s state-based insurance markets at a rate that could keep insurance premiums from going up, according to the most recent enrollment data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

The report said only 24 percent of enrollees as of Dec. 28 were ages 18-34, short of the 40 percent goal among a demographic considered vital to making the law work.

Administration and state officials know they must do better. They’ve employed a number of moves to try to boost young people’s interest, including recruiting former National Basketball Association players to promote the law and running eyebrow-raising ads in Colorado.

The District is a notable exception, with 44 percent of their enrollees falling into the 18-34 age group, even though residents of that age bracket account for only 35 percent of the city’s population.

Thirty other states enjoy a percentage of Obamacare enrollment among 18- to 34-year-olds that is equal to or greater to that age group’s share of the state’s total population, according to an analysis of HHS data against Census figures.

California, the nation’s largest state, breaks even with about 25 percent in each column. However, its state-run exchange said Tuesday the 18-34 age group comprises 36 percent of enrollees who are eligible for government subsidies.

But in order to make the economics of it work — healthy youngsters who didn’t have insurance before are pushed into the system, paying to support older, sicker Americans — young adults must sign up at a faster clip than the general population.

One potential hiccup is that Obamacare allows those up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ plans. That means they won’t be buying into the system, putting even more pressure on states and the administration to enroll those 27-34.

Critics of Mr. Obama’s overhaul said the lack of youth sign-ups is a good thing.

“I am very encouraged by young people and their response to Obamacare. And by that I mean, very few young people have actually signed up for Obamacare,” Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican, said in an interview with TellDC, a partner of The Washington Times.

The Obama administration says it’s not phased by the lagging enrollment numbers, citing the belief that young people will procrastinate and sign up toward the end of the open-enrollment period in March.

“They weren’t necessarily compelled to act by the end-of-the-year deadline, but they will be by the March 31st deadline,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday.

In Colorado, advocacy groups are running a series of “Got Insurance” ads to try to boost enrollment, and have attracted nationwide attention — not all of it positive.

One of the ads depicts young men doing a keg stand — a drinking game usually seen at college parties — while another quotes a young woman as saying, “My health insurance covers the pill, which means all I have to worry about is getting him between the covers.”

“We were trying to inject a little humor around something like health insurance. Not everyone picks up on that, but the ads were designed to get people’s attention,” said Adam Fox, a director at the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, which rolled out the ads with ProgessNow Colorado.

He said they’ve accomplished that goal, with 23 million visits to their website.

The White House, meanwhile, targeted young people last week with assists from Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, a pair of former basketball pros who saw their careers interrupted by health problems.

Mr. Johnson, who tested positive for HIV in 1991, said health insurance saved his life, while Mr. Mourning, who saw his long career interrupted by kidney disease in 2003, said health insurance is a way to “stay in the game” in case of an unexpected injury or illness.

The ads marked a bright spot for the administration’s promotional efforts among athletes, after the NFL rejected its entreaties to promote the law ahead of its balky implementation last fall.