By Elise Viebeck - 12/04/13 08:30 PM EST
Mounting opposition to ObamaCare among young adults is creating a new crisis for the White House.
While the federal enrollment website HealthCare.gov appears to be improving by the day, polls show the “young invincibles” key to making the law work are becoming less likely to enroll.
Younger people were skeptical of the healthcare reform law even before its troubled rollout, despite their support for President Obama.
“The trend is daunting for the White House but not necessarily surprising,” said Pew Research Center Director Michael Dimock.
“Younger folks are part of Obama’s base ... but the rollout confirmed concerns that were already in their minds.”
A poll released Wednesday by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics found that more than half of 18- to 29-year-olds disapprove of ObamaCare and believe it will raise their healthcare costs.
Even more troubling for the administration is that less than one-third of uninsured young people said they plan to enroll in coverage.
Without a large number of young, healthy people in the insurance exchanges, it could create a “death spiral” of high premiums that could threaten the long-term viability of the marketplaces.
The White House appears to recognize the growing threat, and is making outreach to younger people a major focus of its ObamaCare relaunch.
The president began the effort on Wednesday with a youth summit at the White House where he urged audience members to spread the word about the new healthcare exchanges — and think hard about their own health risks.
“Look, I do remember what it’s like being 27 or 28, and aside from the occasional basketball injury, most of the time I kind of felt like I had nothing to worry about,” Obama said. “Of course, that’s what most people think until they have something to worry about. But at that point, oftentimes it’s too late.”
Obama touted the cost of insurance in the exchanges as “affordable” for young people, telling the summit that most health plans are less than a cable or cellphone bill.
The president will continue to court young people on Thursday with a visit to American University in Washington, D.C.
But insurance coverage of any kind remains a tough sell for people in their twenties, many of whom are eligible to stay on their parents’ plans through age 26.
Critics have long charged the Affordable Care Act is a dramatic transfer of resources to older people, and many young people might not see enrollment as being in their financial interest.
For the first time, the law prohibits insurers from charging older patients more than three times what they charge younger ones. This standard will inevitably raise premiums for some young people, especially those whose higher incomes make them ineligible for discounts.
Adding to the challenge, opinions of Obama have fallen this year across most age groups, making it more difficult for the president to act as an effective spokesman for the law.
“You can’t take this generation for granted as coming through for Obama,” Dimock said.
“They certainly voted for him by wide margins, but it doesn’t mean they’re persuaded that everything he’s doing is going to work for their benefit.”
The architects of the healthcare law had hoped that the individual mandate, which requires most people in the country to either obtain insurance or pay a fine by 2014, would help avoid the “death spiral.”
The minimum fine for individuals is only $95 in the first year, however, and many young people are expected to pay the penalty rather than obtain coverage.
A survey released Wednesday by Gallup found that more than one-quarter of people without health insurance would rather pay the fine.
Supporters and opponents of the healthcare law have long seen the enrollment of young people as a central battleground, and both sides are laying the groundwork for an ad war.
Earlier this fall, before the botched debut of HealthCare.gov, a group called Generation Opportunity with ties to conservative donors produced a series of edgy ads aimed at persuading young people to avoid ObamaCare.
Two of the ads showed a menacing Uncle Sam conducting pelvic and prostate exams with the accompanying message: “Don’t let government play doctor ... opt out of ObamaCare.”
Proponents of the healthcare law are expected to fight back with a major ad campaign in December tailored directly to the concerns of young adults.
Republicans say they will prevail as more young people see the problems of the law for themselves.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) said the Harvard poll is evidence that millennials are “abandoning” the president and his signature reform.
RNC National Youth Director Elliott Echols mocked the White House youth summit as a “seat at the kids’ table.”
“Millennials are seeing the negative impacts of Obama-Care, especially rising costs,” Echols said, “and the White House wants a distraction.”