Caring about Obamacare

Since the halting October rollout of the Affordable Care Act, more than 2.2 million Americans have bought health insurance using the government’s website, and young people are no exception. As of the end of 2013, approximately 25 percent of those enrolled are 18–34 years old, according to a Jan. 13 Department of Health and Human Services enrollment report.

Despite the conservative media outcry that the Obama administration failed to attract young enrollees and therefore failed the Affordable Care Act, the youth enrollment so far is impressive. The act allows many young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26, narrowing the 18–34 age range for many Americans to 26–34. Many young adults in that age range are also entering their first full-time jobs that may include health benefits, so they may not need to sign up through the website for several years.

Nonetheless, youth enrollment still needs a push, and the Obama administration does need to improve its outreach efforts. The colorful Twitter campaigns featuring vibrant banners and the hashtag #GetCovered in addition to celebrity endorsements have failed to emphasize that health insurance is mandatory.

The law stipulates that everyone must have health insurance, regardless of age, gender, race, pre-existing condition or economic status. There are no exceptions, nor should there be—becoming seriously ill in the United States is unreasonably expensive. The cost of staying one day in a hospital exceeded $10,000 in 2011, according to a December 2013 American Physical Therapy Association report.

That’s why the 25 percent youth enrollment rate is not enough. To ensure stable health care costs, 40 percent of government health care enrollees need to be in the young adult range, according to a Dec. 17 analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit public policy organization. If the enrollment of young people, who are typically less reliant on medical insurance, falls below 40 percent, insurers may raise prices to offset the costs of insuring the elderly.

Every American is required to have health insurance, and though the young population bears the burden of keeping prices down, enrollment is mandatory for a reason. Young people may think they are invincible, but they are not—besides injuries, 15 percent of American young adults suffer from a chronic condition, according to Young Invincibles, a nonprofit promoting youth voices in health care reform.

The young, uninsured adults need to step up. It is each individual’s responsibility to care for his or her health, not the government’s to force them to.