Opinion

How to get Millennials to sign up for Obamacare? Bribe them to sign up their friends!

Salvator La Mastra Author, 'Twentysomethings: A Young Voter's Guide to the 2012 Elections'

The Obama administration has been desperately pushing Millennials to signup for the Obamacare exchanges. But it appears they aren’t buying the idea that paying sky high premiums to subsidize older, wealthier Americans’ insurance will benefit them in the long run.

What initial reluctance they had was heightened by the disastrous rollout of the exchange website, Healthcare.gov. The idea that in 2013 a functional website designed to handle healthcare could not be perfected in three years time is unfathomable. Healthcare.gov’s embarrassing introduction is what began to turn young people against Obamacare and the sticker price secured it, now some 47 percent are saying they are definitely not enrolling.

The president and his allies have launched many publicity stunts aimed at luring young adults into the exchanges; everything from millionaire celebrities touting how “affordable” it is to trashy ads telling college students they need to get covered before their next keg stand. So what else could the administration have up their sleeves to win over these pesky young adults? Peer pressure!

An article in Time suggests that ‘social physics,’ which is just a fancy word for peer pressure, could be used to coerce young adults into the exchanges. Admittedly, peer pressure is a big motivator but is it big enough to get young people to act in a way that clearly cuts against their self-interest?

The article states that providing a group incentive to social groups to enroll in Obamacare will cause a mass increase in signups among millennials: “If you offered each person $5 a month if everyone were to sign up, it would be a real topic of conversation among young people. If you offered $50 up front, it would be something they would have to do, because otherwise they would be ostracized by their peers — even though $50 is less than $5 per month. Using social physics, rather than economics, could drive young people to sign up in droves.”

The main hypostasis behind using this ‘social physics’ or peer pressure is that by attaining rewards of $5 or $50 for each friend/group to signup will make young adults pressure their friends into the exchanges in order to gain said rewards. Sadly, when it comes to millennials, it is all about the money. This is why the law has been so unpopular among their demographic, it’s simply too expensive. But can these potential rewards be enough for Millennials to splurge on health plans they neither need or want and can’t afford?

As of right now, according to NerdWallet, the average millennial that enrolls in the exchanges will spend an average of $1,700 per year on their healthcare out-of-pocket while those who forego insurance and take the penalty will spend an estimated $348. The numbers, money wise, simply point to the benefit of not enrolling into the exchanges.

To make this ‘social physics’ experiment work for Obamacare the administration would need to have these rewards cover the out-of-pocket premium cost of young adults. At a $5 signup per friend reward, a young adult would need to signup 340 friends to cover the average $1,700 premium price tag on an Obamacare insurance plan. But a reward of $5 or $50 per group that signs up all its ‘members’ is less than half the drop in the Obamacare premium bucket and, at 16 percent youth unemployment, money trumps peer pressure any day. Not to mention that this sort of financial reward, of whatever amount, would be yet another taxpayer bailout of failed government legislation.

According to the most recent numbers out of the White House, about 3 million Americans have signed up for healthcare on the government exchanges and only about 25 percent of those enrollees are under the age of 35. This is far short of the numbers the Obama administration needs to keep healthcare costs low. Once the law is fully implemented it needs around 2.7 million young adults to be enrolled. The total number currently enrolled is just barely above that.

The enrollment period ends March 31st; the Obama administration needs 34,821 young adults to sign-up each day to reach this goal. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen given that, so far, the administration has only been able to sign up an average 7,895 young adults pre day. The Obama administration needs to quadruple (plus some) its young adult signups to prevent this law from going into a death spiral. Obama is quickly finding out how badly he has damaged his relationship with America’s youth.

Over the same period as the disastrous healthcare rollout the president has seen a 17-point drop in his approval among his once most avid and supportive soldiers. Since the rollout of Obamacare, young adults have been awakened to the war Obama is waging on their generation. Millennials disapprove of the law by a whopping 57 percent and 40 percent believe it will decrease the quality of their healthcare. The most devastating fact is only 20 percent of those 18-25 say they are likely to enroll. Furthermore, around 52 percent of young adults would vote to recall the president after he won 60 percent of their votes in 2012.

Young adults are smart enough to realize that a small incentive now isn’t worth the cost later, and grade-school peer pressure probably isn’t a powerful enough motivator to get them into the exchanges. As of right now the Obama administration doesn’t have the poll numbers, the enrollee numbers, or enough youth enthusiasm to fix his signature law.

Millennials are not backing the president and his key legislation, and 2014 is quickly approaching.