Santa's Big Surprise _ a Health Insurance E-Card?

Stumped about that holiday gift for your niece or grandson?

Forget the tablet. How about surprising them with a free month of health care insurance?

California's health insurance exchange Thursday urged holiday shoppers to think about giving young people "the gift of health."

Some suggestions from Covered California: Help a young adult pay for coverage, or send an e-card with a personal message and information about the federal health care overhaul. There's also a website where family members can pledge to help get relatives coverage.

"You can't make the medical decisions for your adult children, but you can help them get affordable health insurance under Covered California," Claire Lipschultz, state policy advocate for the National Council of Jewish Women-California, said in a statement released by the exchange. "Be sure your loved ones are covered."

The campaign highlights a critical financial issue for insurers. Covered California needs to sign up as many young, healthy people as possible — those between 18 and 35 — to offset insurers' cost of carrying older and sicker customers who typically generate more in medical bills than they contribute in premiums.

Data from a handful of states, including California, found many early applicants were older people with health problems — those with the greatest incentive to get coverage.

It's unclear whether that will persist. Young, healthy people may be more inclined to procrastinate, especially given unflattering publicity about technical flaws in the federal online system for sign-ups. California operates its own exchange.

The state agency said about 1.8 million Californians between 18 and 29 are eligible to purchase insurance through the exchange, or will likely qualify Medicaid, known as Medi-Cal in California.

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