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By Barbara Shelly
The Kansas City Star
So I say to my 21-year-old son, "you might want to think about ..."
Fill in the blank. Ironing your shirt before going off to a job interview. Phoning the utility company to make sure the lights won't go out in your college apartment. Whatever. The kid is quick with a shrug and slow to take advice from his mom.
Perhaps the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and/or FreedomWorks will have more success.
Young adults in their 20s and 30s, the so-called young invincibles, are at the forefront of the struggle to either enact or torpedo Obamacare.
President Barack Obama's administration needs them to sign up for the new health insurance exchanges, the statewide marketplaces in which private insurers will provide policies to virtually all comers. The insurers need a broad base of young, healthy people paying into the exchanges so they can afford to treat sick people.
And so Health and Human Services and outside groups are rolling out a full-scale campaign to reach the coveted demographic. They're hitting social media, holding contests and placing messages wherever they think young people might be around to receive them.
Obamacare opponents have their eye on 20- and-30-somethings also. If they can persuade enough young adults to stay out of the exchanges, maybe they can tank the entire plan. Or so the reasoning goes. They're arguing that Obamacare will mean extra expenses for some young people. Even with discounts, it may be less costly to pay an annual fine provided you stay out of the doctor's office.
FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group, has designed "Obamacare draft cards" and encourages young adults to burn them, preferably in the public square.
"The whole scheme is enlisting young adults to overpay, so other people can have subsidies," Dean Clancy, a FreedomWorks vice president, told Washington Post reporter Sarah Kliff. "That unfairness reminded us of the military draft."
Seriously, now. Asking people to buy insurance is nothing like sending them off to war. But let's look at the rest of what Clancy said. FreedomWorks is telling young people they should refuse to participate in a system that asks something of them so that others can benefit. Never mind that the "subsidies" might be life-saving medical treatments. They want young people to buy into the sense of aggrievement we see so much of in politics today, where every attempt to help another is viewed as an attack on one's way of life.
I don't think the victimhood pitch will fly with the young invincibles. Theirs is a generation that has been eager to volunteer and to work to solve society's problems. They aren't in it all for themselves.
Then there's this: Young adults participate at high rates in their employers' health care plans, even when it means giving up a portion of their paychecks. They're paying something so that older co-workers can get medical care at a reasonable cost. Exactly how the exchanges are designed to work.
Also: This group is very smart. They'll quickly figure out that if they stay out of the exchanges and pay a fine, they spend money and get nothing for it. By paying somewhat more they get medical care.
My hope for my son is he'll graduate from college and land a job with health insurance. If that doesn't work out, the Affordable Care Act enables him to stay on a parent's insurance plan until age 26. After that, the exchanges will ensure that he can have a health insurance policy regardless of the twists and turns of life. That frees up younger people and older ones, too to be more entrepreneurial and risk-taking.
Young invincibles understand they're not invincible. Polls have shown that as many as three-fourths of them think it's important to have health insurance. They are smarter and better than the cynical appeal being pitched by Obamacare opponents.
Barbara Shelly is a columnist for the Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.