Enrollment in Obamacare exchange quadruples in Utah
Affordable Care Act • The reform’s future depends on whether “young invincibles” sign up.
Published: December 11, 2013 04:24PM
Updated: December 11, 2013 09:52PM
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| Courtesy Utah Health Policy Project Consumer advocacy groups launched a "What's More Risky" social media campaign to convince Utah's "young invincibles" to buy health insurance. The campaign plays of Utah quirks, such as our love of fry sauce, skiing and mountain biking.

The number of Utahns who successfully shopped the federal health exchange quadrupled last month, supporting anecdotal claims that Obamacare’s virtual insurance marketplace is working more smoothly.

More than 1,500 Utahns enrolled in coverage in November, more than four times October’s disappointing sign-up rate — for a state grand total of 1,865.

Nationally, exchange enrollment more than doubled last month to 365,000, according to data released by the Obama administration.

Additionally, more than 800,000 low-income Americans (and 8,000 Utahns) have been deemed eligible for Medicaid — bringing to 1.2 million the ranks linked to coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

It’s progress, say consumer groups, but the coming weeks will largely determine the health law’s success.

Federal officials have yet to disclose how many so-called “young invincibles,” or 18- to 34-year-olds, have signed up. These largely healthy individuals are critical for helping to spread risk and keep premiums down for everyone, and because they comprise the lion’s share of the nation’s uninsured.

About 46 percent of Utah’s 380,000 uninsured fall in this age group, according to the Utah Department of Health.

And they are not a quick sell, say consumer advocacy groups.

“They need to be educated about what insurance is and why it’s valuable,” said Jason Stevenson, a spokesman for the Utah Health Policy Project, an umbrella organization for Utah’s insurance navigators. “The people who are going to sign up immediately are those who really need insurance.”

One good sign: Scores of exchange applications are still pending, about 3.7 million, including 33,000 in Utah, federal data show. And millennials aren’t as politically resistant to the law.

Interest will grow as the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for insurance effective in January approaches, predicts Stevenson. The health law requires virtually everyone to be covered by January 2014 or pay a tax penalty.

“I had a young person call me the other day and say, ‘My dad keeps telling me I have to call you guys and get insurance,’ ” said Stevenson. “Young people deal with deadlines on a minute-to-minute basis, whether they’re paying college tuition or buying Christmas gifts. I think as they head home for the holidays, there’s going to be a lot of dinner conversation about this.”

To coincide with the holidays and the insurance deadline, the Health Policy Project collaborated on a social media campaign to persuade Utah’s young people to explore their insurance options.

The “What’s More Risky” campaign plays off cultural quirks unique to the Beehive State, such as the popularity of fry sauce, winter inversions, the hazards of skiing and mountain biking, and the danger that our extra-wide streets pose to pedestrians.

The only thing riskier, posits the campaign, is going without health insurance.

kstewart@sltrib.com

Twitter: @KStewart4Trib

Need help shopping the exchange?

Utah’s insurance navigators and counselors are staging educational workshops Friday, Dec. 13, from noon to 2 p.m. at the following times and locations:

Central City CAT Lab (615 S. 300 East, Salt Lake City)

Copperview CAT Lab (8446 S. 300 West, or Harrison St., Midvale)

Redwood CAT Lab (3100 S. Redwood Road, West Valley City)