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College students face tough decision with insurance

Published: Saturday, Nov. 30 2013 4:00 a.m. MST

Uninsured college students generally have less money and more debt than most, but they'll need to pay for insurance or opt-out soon just like everyone else.

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With an implementation that has as many twists and turns as a plumber’s snake, the success of the Affordable Care Act remains deeply uncertain. Tech crews are working through the Thanksgiving weekend to meet President Barack Obama’s goal that the sign-up on the healthcare.gov website will be less glitchy by the end of November.

Add to that complication the millions of cancellation notices sent by health insurers to policy-holders whose coverage was deemed substandard under Obamacare. Although the president urged insurance companies to permit a one-year re-extension for such policy-holders, state insurance commissions in Arkansas, California, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Vermont, Rhode Island and Washington are refusing to comply.

Yet both critics and supporters of Obamacare agree that enlisting young and uninsured college-age Americans to buy into the features of the Affordable Care Act will be crucial to its ultimate success or failure.

Diametrically opposed advocacy groups dubbed Young Invincibles and Generation Opportunity are each working to “educate” members of this demographic group about their health insurance options. Uninsured college students are often left without much guidance in making health decisions.

These advocacy groups focus much of their time and attention on persuading college students either to purchase insurance through healthcare.gov or to buy insurance elsewhere (which may or may not comply with the Affordable Care Act), or to forgo purchasing insurance and pay the penalty fee that Obamacare imposes on those who fail to comply with the law.

Supporting Obamacare

The group Young Invincibles is targeting adults between the ages of 18-34, encouraging them to comply with the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act and cajoling members of this generally healthy demographic group to buy insurance through the recently established health information exchanges.

“For the vast majority of uninsured young people, they’re going to get a better deal through healthcare.gov,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder and executive director of Young Invincibles. “The reason is because of the subsidies that are available.”

To determine if they qualify for subsidies, young adults can use the subsidy calculator of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Most student will qualify for subsidies because of their low incomes. Therefore, Smith believes that — once educated — young people will purchase insurance on the exchanges.

Looking to the experience in Massachusetts under the state health care reform signed by former Gov. Mitt Romney — which also imposed a mandate on individuals who failed to purchase insurance — Smith believes that Obamacare will be a success. Smith said that less than 2 percent of the population in Massachusetts failed to purchase health insurance. That’s because the state took an active role in educating people about how the system worked.

“Massachusetts did a really good job of explaining to people and getting the word out about how the system works,” Smith said. “Folks haven’t looked at [healthcare.gov] because there have been problems with the website. They haven’t yet gotten all the information to make the best decision.”

Panning Obamacare

In contrast to Young Invincibles, the group Generation Opportunity believes that fewer college students will qualify for subsidies than is generally advertised. Generation Opportunity, a national nonpartisan organization advocating for the interest of Millennials ages 18-29, believes that young people should shrug their shoulders at Obamacare and just pay any penalty fee, if necessary.

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