How to get young people to buy Obamacare? Target their moms

Liz Goodwin
Senior National Affairs Reporter
Yahoo News
Anti-Obamacare rally
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Attendees cheer at the Tea Party Patriots 'Exempt America from Obamacare' rally on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, September 10, 2013. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

The Obama administration and a number of nonprofit groups think they have a potent weapon for convincing young “invincibles” to pony up money for health insurance: moms.

Health insurance exchanges set up under President Barack Obama’s health care reform law open for enrollment Oct. 1, and in order for the exchanges to survive, millions of young adults under the age of 35 need to purchase insurance through them.

“There’s absolutely nobody more trusted than mom,” said Jessica Barbara Brown, a spokeswoman for Enroll America, one of the largest nonprofit groups working to get people educated about and signed up for health insurance when the exchanges open. An estimated 2.5 million young adults must sign up during the six-month enrollment period in order to offset the costs of older, sicker adults who need insurance. Federal subsidies that also are a part of the law will make insurance affordable for the first time for many.

It might seem counterintuitive that adults, many of whom have left home and started their own families, would be convinced by their aging parents to buy health insurance. But research shows that today’s 20 and 30-somethings — sometimes referred to as “millennials” — are closer to their parents than were adults from earlier generations and still rely on them for important career and other decisions. (This characterization can lead to mockery, as can be seen in the comment section of a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “Should you bring mom and dad to the office?”)

“They have just recently left their parents to go to college, they’ve just kind of left the nest, but they’re still very close to their parents and specifically moms,” Brown said. And, even more importantly, “many of these young people are still in some part financially dependent on their parents. That’s when especially the mom enters these decisions.”

This same conclusion led AARP, the organization that represents people aged 50 and older, to take a two-pronged approach in educating its membership about the health care law. It created a comprehensive website that guides its younger members not yet covered by Medicare through their insurance options and also another website filled with humorous e-cards that members can use to prod their adult children into signing up.

“We thought, OK, they’re the biggest influencers in their child’s lives, so how do we get our members who have older children to make them consider buying health insurance, some for the very first time,” said Andres Castillo, who is directing the AARP’s outreach efforts.

The AARP created two e-card sites — one in English and the other in Spanish. The English site is called “mom means it” and the Spanish site is called “your mom knows.”

“Starting Oct. 1, your big kid(s) will have new health insurance options,” the AARP site says. “Remind them to check out their choices. And they’ll make Mom, Dad, even Grammy oh so proud!”

One of the e-cards features an image of an engagement ring and the words “Get health insurance so I can stop pestering you to sign up … and start pressuring you to get married.” Another says, “The Bank of Mom and Dad may be closed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get help paying for health insurance.”

While Castillo says the group’s main goal is to educate and enroll AARP members who are between 50 and 64 years old — and thus not yet eligible for Medicare — he adds that the group also is very invested in making sure younger people enter the system so exchanges don’t collapse under the weight of older and sicker people.

“We know that if young people don’t sign up, then the health care law is not going to work,” Castillo said. “We need everyone contributing, everyone in the health care system.”

Enroll America is not only relying on parents to spread the word to their adult children, they’re also seeking out young uninsured adults on college campuses, through social media and other channels. “We are really thinking about where do the young people that can benefit [from the exchanges] gather,” said Anne Filipic, the group’s president, in a conference call with reporters. Volunteers plan to fan out to beauty and barber shops around the country, as well as community colleges in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the White House has helped coordinate efforts with groups such as Funny or Die, an online video site, which is creating Web videos encouraging young people to sign up for the exchanges. Celebrities and pop stars also are planning to encourage adults to sign up via Twitter and other social media sites.

But Filipic stressed that it’s a misconception that young people aren’t interested in being insured, pointing to a June Kaiser Family Foundation poll that found that 70 percent of adults under the age of 30 said having health insurance is “very important” to them. This polling suggests their job might not be so hard after all.

But the same poll unearthed a less encouraging data point: Only half of these young people said they were aware that health care reform was the law in the first place.