STUDY: Young Americans Won’t Avoid Obamacare Simply Because They Don’t Want To Buy Insurance

Uninsured young adults understand they need health care and will purchase it as long as it’s affordable, according to the results from a new study from the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund.

The study’s lead author, Sara Collins, pointed out that the results contradict the popular theory that young adults don’t think they need any insurance coverage because they feel invincible. That’s been one of the primary arguments used to make the point that Obamacare’s insurance marketplaces will end up being unworkable because young Americans won’t sign up.

“Contrary to commonly held beliefs, young adults do want affordable health coverage,” Dr. David Blumenthal, the president of the Commonwealth Fund, explained.

The Commonwealth researchers reached that conclusion by examining what young adults have historically chosen to do when they’re offered an opportunity to buy health insurance — which, for people who have access to employer-sponsored health care, already happens through their jobs. When young Americans are given the option to purchase that employer-based coverage, 67 percent take it. And only a very small number of the people who turn it down, five percent, say they made that choice because they simply don’t think they need insurance. Instead, most of them say they’re either already covered by a family member (54 percent) or wouldn’t be able to afford the plan’s premiums (22 percent).


This aligns with previous research from the Kaiser Family Foundation that found that most young adults do think insurance is important, and want to buy it for themselves. Kaiser’s study also found that this demographic’s biggest barrier to health insurance isn’t actually the assumption that they’re young and invincible — it’s the high cost of health care.

In the lead-up to Obamacare’s new insurance marketplaces, which will open for enrollment in less than two months, many campaigns have focused on figuring out how to convince young adults — often labeled “young invincibles” — that insurance is important for them and they should buy it. But the research suggests that the real question isn’t whether young people can be persuaded that they need coverage, but rather whether that coverage will be affordable for them under Obamacare.

The Commonwealth researchers think it probably will be. Their new study points out that the majority of uninsured young adults in the country — more than 80 percent of an estimated 16 million young people who don’t currently have health care — will qualify for some kind of subsidized coverage under Obamacare. They’ll either be eligible for Medicaid after the health law expands the public program’s coverage pools, or they’ll qualify for federal subsidies to help them buy insurance in the new state-level marketplaces. The study concludes that “affordability is less likely to impede enrollment in health insurance via state exchanges.”

There has been a lot of speculation about whether rising premiums under Obamacare will make health care too expensive for young people, but much of that media coverage has neglected to consider the effect of the subsidies. In fact, between 65 and 70 percent of the young adults who have individual health plans will qualify for Obamacare subsidies, since they tend to make less money than older people. Furthermore, since the majority of Americans already get their health coverage through an employer, a public program, or a family member, it’s important to remember that the premiums in the new marketplaces are likely to impact just eight percent of the total U.S. population.