Point-counterpoint left: Is Obamacare a good deal for employers and younger workers?

BY BETH MYERSONAugust 1, 2013 

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Insurance is a hard sell for those who are young, well and feeling invincible. The same can be said for employers with transient working populations.

For these two groups, insurance has been excessively priced for so long that the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) subsidized insurance, larger markets and preventive health services access seem implausible.

Yet the clarion call for individuals to buy health insurance has sounded in several states touting benefits of peace of mind and pricing from market competition.

Another message contrasts sharply: confusion about cost and insurance exchange readiness for Oct. 1 enrollment. Then comes the political fog obscuring informed dialogue. Despite the critics, there are good reasons for young people and employers to purchase health insurance under the ACA.

Health insurance leads to better health, which increases productivity. Several studies have shown that those with health insurance are healthier and live longer irrespective of socioeconomic circumstances. Further, better health has been shown to increase productivity and earnings, which should be good news to employers and individuals alike.

Insurance assures preventive health services and lower health care costs. The young may opt to forgo insurance, paying the penalty and paying for health care out of pocket.

This is short-sighted and expensive. Under the ACA, those with insurance have access to no-cost preventive services often needed by young men and women: sexual health services such as STD testing, cervical cancer screening and reproductive health services.

Pregnancy, for example, is not always planned. Prenatal care costs will be high during insurance waiting periods. Remember, studies have confirmed that out-of-pocket health care costs for the uninsured are higher because they have not been negotiated by groups with buying power such as insurers or employers.

Most people value health insurance. While polls show negative opinions about the yet unknowable health exchanges, we do know that people want to have health insurance for themselves, their families and as employees.

Insurance, of course, is not good in and of itself but it does assure access to more affordable health services and will provide a safety net in the case of illness or catastrophe.

Because insurance is valued, insuring the work force is good for business because employers will retain top talent and achieve continuity and work force loyalty. Even with the employer mandate delay, employers can begin testing insurance options, whether these are skinny plans, employee insurance subsidies or employer-provided insurance.

Insurance will likely be affordable. Health insurance market pricing will be determined over time by the number of people in the market and how they behave. The more who enter the market, the greater the demand for better insurance products and pricing.

With consumer protections and insurance mobility, price should be controlled. High deductibles will need to decrease, particularly as insurer complaints about cost ring hollow in the face of earnings increases. Just last week, for example, WellPoint announced an earnings increase of 24 percent with a positive earnings outlook under the ACA. We should expect premiums and deductibles to decrease.

No one wants to be told what to do. The insurance mandates are not popular even if insurance is valuable. And there will be challenges ahead.

For example, not all states are ready for Oct. 1. Some delayed precisely because of leadership positioning against Obamacare. Others face issues related to information infrastructures to assure information flow and security.

Even with the anticipated challenges, however, employers and young people should take advantage of insurance because it can yield tremendous health and cost benefits in the long run.

Beth Meyerson is an assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health and co-director, Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention and national policy director of Cervical Cancer-Free America. Email, bmeyerson@indiana.edu.

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