Officials scramble to sign up the young, healthy and uninsured before deadline

  • Get Covered Illinois, the online marketplace for residents to sign up for plans, is continuing to push young adults to register by a March deadline.(Bloomberg News file photo)
Get Covered Illinois, the online marketplace for residents to sign up for…
March 26, 2014|By Leonor Vivanco, @lvivanco | RedEye

It's crunch time.

The deadline to enroll in health care plans under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is looming.

Get Covered Illinois, the online marketplace for residents to sign up for plans, is continuing to push young adults to register by March 31 as part of a $36 million federally funded marketing campaign that includes celebrity endorsements, videos and ads.

The state has tapped familiar faces such as Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz; "Chicago Fire" actors Yuri Sardarov, Christian Stolte and David Eigenberg; and "Top Chef" contestant Carlos Gaytan to persuade Millennials to sign up for health care.

Why? Officials are particularly interested in wooing the 18-to-34 set they call "young invincibles," who are generally healthy and difficult to convince to sign up.

"They don't believe anything bad is going to happen to them," said Sabrina Miller, spokeswoman for Get Covered Illinois. "They don't believe they're going to get sick.

The demographic makes up nearly half the uninsured population in the state. Federal data released earlier this month showed that more than 4.2 million Americans have enrolled in plans and only 25 percent were young adults.

Jeremy Aregood, 23, signed up online for insurance in December. "My biggest worry was just that since it was mandatory I was really concerned it was going to cost more than I wanted to pay," said Aregood, who lives in Edgewater.

The recent Northwestern graduate does not get health insurance through his part-time job as a research assistant at the university, where he earns approximately $20,000 a year. He was insured through his parents for a time but dropped off for personal and financial reasons. He signed up through the marketplace after living without insurance for a period after graduation in June.

He picked a bronze level plan with minimal coverage, lower premiums and higher out-of-pocket costs than other levels. He said his plan could have cost him as much as $80 a month but a credit he received dropped his premium to $10 a month.

"Young people don't really have many medical issues, but you sort of need that safety net for the unforeseen possibilities," Aregood said.

With only days left in the open enrollment period, RedEye presents five must-know points of signing up for health care.

Do I need to enroll in a health care plan?

Adults can stay on their parents' health plan until they're 26 years old. Adults who get health insurance from their employers don't need to buy insurance through the marketplace because they're already covered.

Officials are targeting those who are not currently covered by health insurance, particularly young adults. Healthy young adults help offset the cost of covering older and more sickly people. If enrollment of young people falls short, health care expenses would outweigh premium revenues and insurers may raise premiums next year to cover the shortfall, according to a report issued by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation in December.

Miller said Get Covered Illinois is trying to change the culture and mindset people have about health insurance. "It's not just something you use when you're sick or when you need to go to the emergency room," she said. Rather, people can plan wellness visits ahead of time.

What are the health care plan options?

There are quite a few.

Since income level will help determine what plans people can afford as well as what level of financial assistance they can receive, people need to have their latest income tax information ready as well as a government-issued ID when enrolling in a plan.

Individuals making up to $16,105 a year will be eligible for Medicaid. Otherwise, they can shop the Illinois marketplace and pick among platinum, gold, silver, or bronze plans. The different plan categories vary depending on how much people are willing to pay for monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs. For example, the platinum plan would have a higher monthly premium payment and lower out-of-pocket costs compared to a bronze plan, which would have lower premiums and higher out-of-pocket costs.

In general, most people in Illinois chose the silver and bronze plans.

People younger than 30 have another option: a catastrophic plan. Those plans cover three annual primary care visits as well as preventive services. Such plans may have low monthly premiums but higher out of pocket costs and financial aid is not available.

What if I can't afford to pay for insurance?

About 77 percent of uninsured Illinois residents who selected a marketplace plan qualified for financial assistance, according to federal data.. "A lot of young people think, 'I can't afford this.' They really can," Miller said.

Financial aid can come in the form of tax credits or cost-sharing reductions.

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