An ongoing concern for the future success of the Affordable Care Act is the extent to which “young invincibles” – Americans ages 18 to 34 – are signing up for health care coverage. While the White House reports that total enrollment in Obamacare now tops 6 million – a crucial milestone – officials are hoping the late surge in sign-ups include significant numbers of the young.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported in March that 27 percent of the enrollees to date are ages 18-34. Although the number of young enrollees has surged eightfold since launched in October – it’s still short of the 40 percent target  that officials are hoping for. In February 2014, 268,475 people ages 18-34 signed up for health care, versus 318,055 in January.

A big challenge for Obamacare boosters has been convincing young Americans that they need coverage – and not just because their premiums will help subsidize health care costs for older, sicker people.

While it’s true that younger people are less prone to suffering from expensive, chronic diseases, such as diabetes, they are far more likely than older Americans to suffer from catastrophic – and costly – injuries and accidents. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), unintentional, non-fatal injuries caused more than $6.8 billion in hospitalization costs for people ages 20-34 in 2005 (the last year for which data are available).

The CDC also finds that young people are far more likely than older people to be treated in emergency rooms for accidental injuries. For example, people ages 25-34 were about as twice as likely as people ages 55-64 to be injured in car accidents, more than six times as likely to be hurt in assaults, and more likely to be poisoned, bitten or to suffer unintentional “cuts and piercings.” They were also almost as likely to fall.

Not so invincible – Leading causes of nonfatal injuries treated in hospital emergency departments – 2011

Types of unintentional injuries
Ages 25-34
Ages 55-64
Struck by object656,043260,734
Occupant in moving vehicle572,542236,368
Assault351,852 58,527

Source: Centers for Disease Control

Younger Americans are obviously more active than older Americans – and they take more risks. While opting out of coverage may seem to some like a cost-efficient decision, it may end up to be a costly gamble that many young Americans end up losing.

[Cross-posted at Republic 3.0]

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