Most young adults agree: “Insurance is something I need.”

spinThere’s spin, and then there’s spin. This short post by Washington Examiner’s Timothy P. Carney is the latter. Yesterday the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) released their June Health Tracking Poll. One section of the polling centered on young adults, ages 18-30, and how they felt about health insurance. Among their key findings:

  • Around 75 percent think it’s “very important to them personally to have insurance.”
  • Around 75 percent believe “Insurance is something I need.”
  • Around 70 percent agree that “Insurance is worth the money it costs.”

For those especially concerned that ‘young invisibles’ might be overly burdened by state-led coercion for the requirement to have insurance or face a tax penalty, this poll should assuage some of that anxiety. That is, these numbers send a pretty strong signal that most young adults think having health insurance is important, is something they need, and is worth the cost. Indeed, it’s such a straightforward conclusion to draw that KFF writes the headline “Young Adults Want and Value Health Insurance.”

These are rock-solid results that should be hard to spin, but Carney gives it his best shot with “A quarter of young people don’t want health insurance, think it’s a ripoff.”

He explains:

About one in four Americans ages 18-30 say they “don’t really need” health insurance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. About 35 percent are unwilling to say it’s “worth the money it costs.”

Those are pretty big minorities of the population that don’t want health insurance. But guess what? They will be forced by Obamacare to buy health insurance.

One in four young adults didn’t just say they “don’t really need” health insurance. About 25 percent of the respondents agreed to the statement “I’m healthy enough that I don’t really need insurance.” This is an important distinction. Leaving out the health portion of the answer allows other inferences — perhaps I’m wealthy, on my parent’s insurance, or maybe I’m Darwin from X-Men and instantly adapt to any given situation. Whatever the reason it isn’t as illuminating as the full statement that lets everyone know these respondents don’t understand the purpose of insurance.

I’ve never had to submit a car insurance claim, so in that sense maybe I could answer a similar poll question saying “don’t really need” and have Carney describe my group as “not wanting car insurance.” Yet the more accurate statement would say, as a young adult, that “I’m safe, and lucky, enough driving that I don’t really need insurance.” On an insurance subject where one political party isn’t decrying a mandate as the greatest threat to freedom since the Snuggie people would say I’m missing half the point of having car insurance. Why? Because insurance isn’t just a way to pay for a broken car or body. In the same way that car insurance isn’t just for unsafe drivers, health insurance isn’t just for sick people. Today’s healthy people are tomorrow’s sick people, or tomorrow’s “just got hit by a city bus” people. Insurance exists to minimizes risk, like driving a car or being a human susceptible to disease, illness, and injury. This isn’t to get into whether or not mandating health insurance is the same as car insurance, but to underscore that health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is meant — shocking, I know — to perform the same function as other types of insurance.

I’m not sure why Carney saw it otherwise unless it makes his case for a curmudgeonly  response more easy. “About 35 percent are unwilling to say it’s ‘worth the money it costs'” is utterly irrelevant to validity of young adults having health insurance under the ACA. Those are responses to the status quo, a situation in which I might find myself in agreement with the 35 percent. When I was pursuing a career in a field you’d never guess me to be in I had a momentary lapse in my employer-sponsered insurance. Because I had a very young child I shopped for bridge insurance in the state of Florida, going through the long application process only to be quoted several policies that were, charitably, a ripoff. In that sense I agree with Carney’s headline — the individual insurance market as it exists now for anyone other than Superman is a gigantic waste of money for a much inferior product that won’t exist after 2014. Which is to say, that’s not how it’s going to work under the new health law, so sentiments towards existing insurance has little to no bearing on the insurance market that we’ll have next year. Carney knows this and still chooses to use it as evidence that Obamacare will be ‘teh suck.’

To say “They will be forced by Obamacare to buy health insurance” is, well, just wrong. The individual mandate is a requirement to have health insurance or face a penalty that raises your taxable income. This isn’t a false choice; by most accounts even after 2016 it’ll still be cheaper many to just have a higher tax liability than pay for health insurance. For next year, though, it’ll only amount to “$95 per uninsured person or 1 percent of household income over the filing threshold.”

Maybe the normally astute Carney was just having a bad day because this is too easy. It’s a short post with the seeming purpose to make a snide point about liberals. This is a much longer response, in part, because Carney’s mental jujitsu on the KFF poll is so depressingly common among ACA opponents. Every aspect of the national healthcare system is now an opportunity to reaffirm priors on the new law — even sometimes from liberals. Ideology shouldn’t excuse shoddy exercises in completely misrepresenting facts and contexts.

There seems to be a consensus that for the individual exchanges to operate sustainably young adults need to participate in order to subsidize older and sicker entrants who’ve previously been denied access to insurance. To my mind the KFF poll shows young adults are much more open to the idea of having affordable access to superior health insurance products. This is a another encouraging sign for health reform advocates, especially if opponents have to spin this much to make it appear otherwise.


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