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Health insurance marketplace aggressively seeks millennial shoppers

Gustavo Valdez, an insurance navigator with the Community Action Agency of St. Louis County helps Charles Niemeyer enroll in health insurance through the healthcare.gov website.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says it is trying new ways to market health insurance to uninsured millennials.

In a press conference Tuesday, officials announced several strategies to target young, healthy adults to balance the risk pool of the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

The federal agency will work with the IRS to send mailings to people who paid a tax penalty last year for not having insurance. The penalty has increased annually since the marketplace opened. Next year, the fee rises to almost $700 from $325 last year.

Nearly half of Americans who paid the fee were under 35.

Thirty-year-old Andrea Rodriguez Moon of St. Louis was one of them. She paid the penalty in 2015 for not carrying American insurance while taking a long trip to Chile--where she holds dual citizenship--and claimed a fee exemption this year when she lost insurance along with a job. She doesn't know what next year will bring. She says that, while she’d like to buy health insurance through the marketplace, that won’t be possible if she’s barely making ends meet. 

“It would mean that I would have to bust out a credit card to pay that penalty because I just simply can’t afford it, month to month. Hopefully that won’t be the case,” Rodriquez Moon said.

As a freelance graphic designer, Rodriquez Moon’s salary fluctuates throughout the year and she cannot get insurance through her employers. She says she hopes to go through the marketplace next year, but that depends on her income and the cost of premiums.

More email coming

Some of the people most vulnerable to being uninsured include freelancers, musicians, hairdressers and 26 year olds. That’s the age people can no longer stay on their parents’ health plans.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says even though more young people are getting insurance, the rate for not having it ticks up at age 26.

New federal guidelines will allow insurance providers to target marketing to people nearing their 26th birthdays and give information about specific health plans.

The enrollment process is changing, too. Anyone enrolling in insurance through the marketplace can expect a lot of emails. Healthcare.gov’s chief marketing officer Josh Peck says one lesson learned from past enrollments is that millennials respond to email.

Starting with this fall’s enrollment, a person who creates an account through the ACA marketplace will instantly receive an email reminding them to start an application. Someone who starts an application but doesn’t pick a plan will get an email to remind them to continue.

“These seem like small improvements but we learned last year that keeping the consumer engaged while they are enrolling can make an enormous difference in getting people across the finish line,” Peck said.

Food-truck model

Chelsea Arnott of the St. Louis Effort for AIDS regularly assists young adults enrolling in health insurance. She says she thinks the new announcements sound promising.

“Any opportunity that we have to get more information out to consumers who are uninsured is a good step,” Arnott said.

Arnott has her own methods for reaching millennials. She runs enrollment drives and talks to young adults about health insurance at bars, gay pride parades and farmer’s markets.

“I kind of think of us as a food truck model, where we’re trying to engage our community in areas where they’re already at,” Arnott said.

This November marks the fourth open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act marketplace.