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White House Works to Turn Young Adults into Fans of the Health Care Law

By Jane Norman, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

March 25, 2011 -- Confronted with selling a health care law that in its first year hasn't yet won over the hearts of the public, Democrats and the Obama administration are targeting young adults to spread the word about the benefits of the law for them.

The administration is also turning to the place where young adults get their information—social networks. There's a Facebook page created by the Department of Health and Human Services devoted to both young adults and their parents, answering questions about how the law applies to them.

It includes a video featuring Kalpen Modi of the White House Office of Public Engagement, who goes by the name Kal Pen as an actor in the "Harold and Kumar" movies. Modi gives step-by-step directions in the video on how to obtain insurance coverage on a parental plan.

Building youth support is also key as President Obama prepares for his 2012 re-election run and looks to retain the backing he found in 2008 from that demographic—and expand it to include those who were too young to vote in that election but have since reached their 18th birthdays.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that 1.2 million young adults graduating from college this year will be able to stay on their parents' health insurance policies. Under the law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), young adults under the age of 26 are allowed to remain on their families' health insurance plan.

That's a switch from years past when laws varied from state to state but many young adults lost coverage at 19 or as soon as they graduated from school and were no longer students.

This year, many young adults "would have been in the open market absent a parents' plan," Sebelius said on a conference call with three groups that advocate for young adults—the Young Invincibles, Campus Progress and student chapters of the Public Interest Research Group.

If the law were repealed as Republicans advocate, the new benefits for young adults would vanish as well, Sebelius said.

"One of the groups that benefits the most from the law is young adults," she said. Americans in their 20s are almost twice as likely to go without health insurance as older adults, she said.

That message was echoed by House Democrats.

"Health reform is about making the health care system work for American families, not insurance companies," said Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, in a statement. "This concept seems lost on Republicans, whose repeal efforts would reverse the age 26 provision, which is already making life easier for young adults and their families."

Democrats face a problem in that young people haven't had to purchase health insurance in the past and now will be faced with a penalty if they don't, and some young adults may not like that idea. Republicans have not yet shown that they're targeting young people for opposition to the individual mandate, but the requirement is unpopular across the board in polls.

Another problem for Democrats is that insurers say that "rating band restrictions" under the law limit how much more insurers can charge the elderly than they charge the young and that will drive up premium charges for young adults. On the other hand, Americans under 30 will be able to buy lower cost plans that cover only the catastrophic costs of illness.

ACO Rules
Also on the call, Sebelius fielded a question about when regulations for accountable care organizations (ACOs) might be coming out. ACOs were created in the health care law to encourage quality and cost savings in Medicare and are organizations made up of different types of providers, typically doctors and hospitals.

The regulations likely will emerge "in the very near future, in the next couple of weeks," Sebelius said.

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