Ken Johnson, associate dean of Weber State University’s Dumke College of Health Professions, said he believes the premiums may move up, and the penalties for not having insurance may move up as well.
“I believe offering insurance through the Affordable Care Act may cost more than it is worth if the enrollment pattern continues,” Johnson said.
The White House and health policy experts have repeatedly said insurers need to sign up large numbers of young and healthy people in order to balance the risk of covering older Americans who require medical care.
The White House hired Marlon Marshall, the former deputy national field director for President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, to run a campaign aimed at increasing sign-ups, specifically among young people.
“If people who are now not paying premiums decide to get health insurance when they get into their 40 or even 50s, when they start developing chronic illnesses, the insurance companies will go bankrupt,” said Richard Dahlkemper, undergraduate program director for WSU Health Administrative Services.
Johnson believes it is not in a person’s nature to worry about health care when they are young. “A lot of younger people are pretty healthy and do not even think about having health insurance much.”
The Department of Health & Human Services issued a brief recently which said 55 percent of all people who have obtained insurance, either through state or federally run marketplaces, are 45-64 years of age.
“People are frustrated by there being a penalty associated with health care,” said WSU nontraditional students senator Sandi Weber. “You are forced to take action.”
Eighty percent of the 2 million people who have signed up have asked for financial assistance to help pay for insurance. “The greatest weakness is in the way it has been presented to the public,” Dahlkemper said, “that it is going to save money.”
Nontraditional students at WSU must now pay for insurance in order to avoid a penalty fee. “Most nontraditional students are well aware of a $300-$500 hit from the penalty,” said Tyler Hall, Davis campus senator, “and they are planning for it.”
According to Healthcare.gov, on Jan. 23, for a person who is 27 years old and makes $15,000 a year and receives a tax credit, the cheapest health insurance, where this is no deductible, is $26 per month.
“Some nontraditional students that were uninsured because they could not afford health care are now able to afford it,” Weber said.
Weber doesn’t currently have insurance after switching jobs. “I am not going to go and buy a new health policy when I have just a small window before my new policy kicks in with my new job,” she said.
Heather Merkley, assistant professor in Health Administrative Services, said she went to a banquet recently where the sponsors said, “The Affordable Care Act is like inviting everyone to come to dinner. However, the problem is what is better — inviting everyone to come or being able to pay the bill.”
Under the law, insurers can no longer deny coverage or charge higher premiums based on a person’s medial history or pre-existing conditions, and employers who staff more than 50 employees must help to provide insurance to their employees.
Both Merkley and Johnson said they believe one of the biggest strengths of the Affordable Care Act is it helps cover preventative care. People are now allowed to have mammograms, checkups and colonoscopies annually to prevent illness and serious diseases.
Another strength Merkley and Johnson both mentioned is that insurance companies now must cover young adults on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26, which will directly impact the lives of students at WSU.
The end of open enrollment for insurance through the Affordable Care Act is March 31, 2014.
“The Affordable Care Act sounds great; if we were a wealthy country, I would say go for it,” Merkley said. “However, the nation is trillions of dollars in debt.”