MNsure targets young people

To stay viable, the health care exchange needs young, healthy people to buy plans.

Alexa Billadeau

Minnesota’s week-old health insurance exchange is targeting young, healthy users to balance out costs.

MNsure — an online marketplace where Minnesotans can compare coverage and enroll in health plans — has been using social media to target younger demographics since May.

“The idea of health insurance is likely to be something very new and unknown to young adults who aren’t going to have that much familiarity with making these types of choices,” said Jennifer Ball, an assistant professor with a focus on health communication at the University of Minnesota.

She said marketing to that age group is necessary to make them understand the importance of being insured.

The Affordable Care Act requires Americans to enroll in health insurance. Minnesota was one of 16 states to create its own online marketplace; other states used a federal standard exchange.

As the health care law takes effect, University students without employee benefits are facing several new options for coverage. They can stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26, buy the University’s health plan or shop for coverage through MNsure.

The average premium on MNsure will rise if young people opt out and pay a penalty instead of getting insured, said health policy and management professor Lynn Blewett. The healthy users help balance out the costs of covering older, less healthy people, she said.

MNsure communications and marketing director Mary Sienko said the exchange’s outreach team is planning events on college campuses to reach young people.

She said MNsure’s marketing has focused heavily on its web presence.

“We’ve been doing a lot of banner ads on different online portals where the young adults live, breathe and interact,” she said.

A week after launch, MNsure’s Facebook audience has more than tripled, reaching nearly 1,000 “likes” Monday night.

Many professional students, like third-year law student David Tibbals, haven’t considered what they’ll do when they’re responsible for purchasing their own insurance.

“That’s something that when I get to that point in my life, I’ll see what options are available,” he said.

Law student David Pascoe said most of the law students he knows plan to get covered through a future employer.

Neuroscience junior Tyler McNeal, president of American Citizens for Economic Freedom, said in an email the individual mandate doesn’t affect any group members he’s spoken to, because most of them use their parents’ coverage.

Health policy and management professor Roger Feldman estimates that only about half of people under age 26 are covered by their parents’ plans. Policy designers considered the number of young people taking part in the exchange while creating policies, Feldman said.

“They factor in only getting a certain fraction,” he said. “It would become a problem if the eligible — the people that would be going into the exchange — decide not to.”

Although young people could still get good deals using the exchange, Feldman said, they may be overpaying.

“The premium for their policy will probably be higher than the actual expenses for that policy,” he said. “They pay a little bit above the fair prices in order to subsidize older consumers in the exchange.”