What do you see? Is it a creepy-looking older couple staring into each other’s eyes? Or is it a man playing a guitar on a street while a young woman with a basket on her head listens? It’s the same picture, only two completely different perspectives.
A recently released poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation on how young adults view health care is subject to the same dual interpretation. The poll shows that among those aged 18 to 25, 77 percent said having health insurance was personally important to them and 76 percent said it was something they needed.
Liberals immediately jumped on the poll results to disprove critics’ concerns that a classic insurance death spiral could result from young adults failing to participate. Jeffrey Young writes for the Huffington Post:
“Enrolling large numbers of younger, healthier people into health insurance is key to keeping premiums affordable for everyone. Moreover, young people are uninsured at higher rates than older people and tend to have lower incomes. But Obamacare skeptics maintain that young people don’t obtain health insurance because they don’t believe they’ll get sick and find themselves with medical bills to pay.
The survey findings appear to give the lie to this argument.”
But as a conservative, I see the same poll numbers in a completely different and admittedly more troubling light. To me, the poll shows that a full 24 percent of 18 to 25-year-olds believe that they are healthy enough that they don’t really need insurance. A somewhat larger percentage is unwilling to say that insurance is worth the money it costs.
Those are certainly minorities, but they are big minorities, especially in a situation like Obamacare, which counts on a very high percentage of young adults participating in order to lower rates on older, sicker adults. As we wrote last week, the idea that younger, healthier people will be forced into Obamacare to subsidize more expensive populations is an intentional feature, not a drafting flaw in the eyes of its Democratic authors. The only way they could add sicker people to the risk pool without everyone, particularly the AARP, crying foul was to spread the cost among people who wouldn’t have otherwise borne it.
But if 24 percent of young adults, or even a much smaller number, don’t buy into the new system and opt to pay the fine instead, things could get ugly very fast. As Jonathan Cohn wrote last month:
[I]f the exchanges don’t enroll enough young, healthy people, insurers will have to raise everyone’s premiums. In the worst case, this could create what actuaries call a “death spiral”: Rising premiums prompt people to drop out, causing premiums to increase even more.”
Which in turn prompts more people to drop out! And then, quite suddenly, a huge majority, not just a large minority, of young adults will believe that insurance isn’t worth the money. This is what the total implosion of Obamacare looks like.
In other words, whether you see an old couple or a man playing a guitar, or whether you see it as a good thing that only around three quarters of young people think they need insurance, everybody better unify around a picture of what happens if Obamacare fails. Because quite frankly time is running out.