Can Young People Afford the New Health Insurance Exchanges?

PHOTO: Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius waves as she takes the stage during day one of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 4, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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The Obama administration is counting on young people to enroll in the new healthcare exchanges that open October 1. But so far, they’ve been a hard sell.

As Fusion’s Alicia Menendez pointed out during an interview with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week, a lot of healthy young people don’t see the need since they view themselves as “fundamentally invincible.”

Consider a 25-year-old single woman living in Oregon who earns about $25,000 a year, she said. Under the new bronze insurance plan - the option with the lowest premium, but higher copays and deductibles - she’ll pay about $116 each month for insurance.

That’s a lot of money for someone bringing home around $1500 a month. Menendez posed a question initially brought forward by The Washington Post: Can she even afford it?

For Sebelius, the real question is, “[C]an you afford not to have that plan in place?”

Regular checkups can catch cancers early and significantly increase survival chances, the secretary pointed out. Even when uninsured women do have a mammogram that reveals something negative, they face crippling costs when it comes to follow-up treatments and prescriptions.

“You are one diagnosis away from a life-crushing lifetime of bills,” she said. “See it as several Starbucks a month or the new sweater on sale at the local boutique. You pay more than that for a pair of shoes you really liked. We are talking about health coverage that can really save your life.”

Invincibility only lasts so long.

“And I think it’s a part of being part of the grown up world,” Sebelius said, “to take some responsibility for yourself and your health.”

There are limitations, though. Plenty of undocumented people would like access to the exchanges, but they won’t get it. About 14 percent of Washington’s uninsured population are undocumented, Menendez pointed out.

“Can the system really work if 14 percent of the uninsured people in the state aren’t covered?” she asked. “It will work marginally,” Sebelius said, but added that the real answer is comprehensive immigration reform.

“That’s why we need comprehensive immigration reform,” the secretary said. “We can’t solve the situation with undocumented workers in this country through the healthcare reform bill. We have to solve it through comprehensive immigration reform.”

Check out the video above to see Menendez ask Sec. Sebelius some questions she received from Twitter followers about the program.

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