Success of Affordable Care Act hinges on young buying in - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Success of Affordable Care Act hinges on young buying in

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TYLER, TX (KLTV) -

The Obama administration pushed back yet another deadline on Monday, giving people until Tuesday night to sign up for healthcare coverage beginning January 1.

But according to many experts, the more important factor is who signs up. They say the success of healthcare reform all hinges on the willingness of young people  to buy in.

29-year-old Bobby Land has never had health insurance.

"I guess I didn't think I needed it at the time," Land said.

But now, that's about to change.

"It's pretty much mandatory now," Land said. "You've got to have it. I don't want to get in trouble for not having it so I'm going to get it."

Land is exactly the type of person needed to make healthcare reform work. That's because the younger population typically uses their coverage less.

"You won't have that young, healthy person to put their money in the same bucket to help offset those with high cost," said Wendy Brattelli of the Texas Association of Health Underwriters. "You're not going to have money pay for that cost."

In fact, many experts believe at least 40 percent of those that do sign up need to be young. But of the states that have reported enrollment so far, the program is falling far short of the mark.

"It's difficult to get a young healthy male or female in their 20s who are rarely sick and don't have discretionary income to put that income out there on the table for something they don't see as beneficial," Bratteli said.

That's something 23-year-old Brian Sanders can relate to. He said he's staying on his parents' plan for now.

"I'm saving money," Sanders said. "I work part time. I'm a part time worker and a full time student so to be honest, I can't really afford it at the moment."

But there are some signs that the penalty is actually encouraging people to enroll. 20-year-old Alma Velez has never had insurance, but now, her family is talking about signing up.

"That's mostly the reason we're getting it, so we won't have to pay the penalty," Velez said.

That's something that officials like to hear, because without young people in the system, "it's going to mean uber-high premium increases," according to Bratteli.

In fact, enrollment numbers are especially important in Texas, which has the dubious title of the state with the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the country.

At the end of November, only about 14,000 people had actually picked plans and enrolled for coverage beginning January 1. But that figure does not include anybody who may have signed up in December. That's especially important, given that the troubled roll-out of Healthcare.gov didn't allow users to actually sign-up until more than a month after its initial launch.

State data shows that about 250,000 Texans had logged on to the website and completed applications, but the majority of them never picked a plan for coverage.

On Monday, the website did seem to be showing a last-minute rush for coverage, as it began queuing customers attempting to log on.

With the deadline's delay, individuals now have until Tuesday evening to sign up for coverage beginning January 1. However, open enrollment continues through March 31, after which point individuals without health insurance will be subject to a penalty.

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