Many young people don't see cost-benefit of buying health insurance by deadline

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Open enrollment for Cover Oregon ends on March 31 if you want coverage this year. All along, the state health insurance exchange was counting on young people, between ages 18 and 34, to sign up to keep costs down for everyone. But, that's not happening, and the trend is not surprising to some insurance brokers.

The problem of young people not signing up for health insurance isn't specific to Oregon. It's a country-wide occurrence that some insurance experts believe could be what eventually kills the Affordable Care Act.

Lisa Lettenmaier owns Healthsource Northwest, an insurance agency near Tigard. She believes young people who currently don't have health insurance aren't signing up for it through Cover Oregon, or even directly with insurance companies, for three reasons: many who are younger than 26 are staying on, or being added to, their parents' insurance plans; many don't see the cost benefit of paying a monthly fee for a plan when they're healthy, and already living paycheck-to-paycheck; and many young people don't qualify for a tax credit, which would reduce their monthly premiums.

The second scenario above is the case for Rudy Alvarado, 23, a healthy man from Tualatin. He doesn't have health insurance and doesn't plan to buy it.

"I don't really need it at this moment in time. I'm perfectly healthy the way I am. I'm working out most of the time," said Alvarado.

As of March 1, Cover Oregon reports that only 19 percent of people who've enrolled are in Alvarado's age group, 18 to 34. Nationally, that same group represents only 25 percent of those who've enrolled.

Lettenmaier has some words of caution about those trends.

"If you don't buy within this initial open enrollment, and you let that enrollment period go by and you get a cancer diagnosis or some other type of major illness or situation, you can't go out and buy insurance when you feel like it," explained Lettenmaier.

Despite that, Alvarado said he'd rather pay a fee to the federal government now than pay for an insurance plan because it means less money out of his pocket.

For example, he'll pay a minimum fee of $95.00, as a single person, for not having health insurance in 2014. The minimum fee for a family of four is $285.00. Those amounts are taken out of taxes, and go up by hundreds of dollars in future years. The fines apply to anyone of any age.

If you've waited until now to get health insurance, or just realized it's a federal law to have it, it's not too late. The best thing to do is visit a broker or an agent. They can help you quickly wade through the process, and have direct access to the Cover Oregon website where they can submit your application electronically.

The deadline to apply through Cover Oregon, and get coverage starting April 1, 2014 was March 15. Anyone who applies through Cover Oregon by March 31, which is the federal deadline to apply, will get covered beginning May 1.

You can also go through Cover Oregon directly. However, if you have questions about plans, Cover Oregon employees legally cannot offer you any advice. A final option is to go directly to an insurance company and sign up. The disadvantage of that is you might not be able to get a price break or a tax credit.

Lettenmaier said people who apply between March 15 and 31, who won't have coverage until May 1, will likely be charged one month's worth of the federal fee for not having insurance coverage.

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