Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Students Amanda McComas, Rose Marie Chute and Sari Schwartz are approached in October at Santa Monica City College in California about signing up for insurance with the Affordable Care Act.
Students Amanda McComas, Rose Marie Chute and Sari Schwartz are approached in October at Santa Monica City College in California about signing up for insurance with the Affordable Care Act. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Getting young, healthy people to sign up for health insurance is seen as critical to the success of the Affordable Care Act. It's precisely those people who will help offset the cost of the older, sicker ones.
But while cheap health insurance and subsidies based on income are intended to make the program appealing to the young, what if they haven't even heard of the health care law? Or don't want to buy even an inexpensive policy?
To find out, I needed to find groups of those young, healthy people. I live in Hollywood, so where better to look than a casting agency?
I met Matt Rife, a comic, at the Cazt agency's open call for a comedy show. Rife, 18, works at comedy clubs and doesn't have health insurance. But he does need it, he says.
"Like, if I get hurt, I'm kind of screwed," he says. "If I get sick, I'm on my own — I'm down to some ibuprofen and some cough drops and that's about it."
Rife says he and his friends don't talk much about health care because it seems like a distant political thing that doesn't have much to do with them.
"We're worried about it, but not, like, 'Oh, we gotta get this today or we're going to be in trouble,' you know."
If something did happen, Rife says, having insurance would be nice. But he admits he'd like to buy a car first.
Blake Sheldon, 21, is also here for an audition. He works at a sandwich shop when not looking for acting gigs and is uninsured. He hasn't thought much about the Affordable Care Act, he says.
"What I do know is that it doesn't seem too easy right now, at least, from my understanding," Sheldon says. "And so with, you know, all the other stuff going on in my life, moving out here — I don't know. I guess I just haven't done that much research into it."
In fact, a lot of the young people that I talked to didn't seem aware of the Affordable Care Act and how it related to them in any great detail — though there have been some marketing attempts to reach out to them.
Carrie Prince, 28, is a freelance production assistant for a major Hollywood studio. And while she works more than 40 hours a week, she doesn't get insurance from her employer. She's going to buy coverage, she says, but she's torn about it.
"It will make me broke all the time," she says. "It's basically taking every last dollar that I would have to spend on extra food, or a parking ticket or anything."
Prince says she's gone to HealthCare.gov and calculated that with a subsidy she would have to pay just over $100 per month.
"I am super-healthy. I rarely go to the doctor. So to pay over $100 a month for something I rarely use seems crazy to me," she says.
Over at The Bar Method, a small health club in Long Beach, Calif., Aubrey Castle-Saunders teaches a workout that's a cross between Pilates, yoga and 1980s aerobics. She's 29 and doesn't have health insurance right now.
Up until last year, she says, she would rather have paid a penalty than buy coverage. She's healthy and takes care of herself, she figured. But then she got kidney stones.
"And it was completely out of the blue, and the bill was astronomical," she says — and the pain was unbearable, too. That was a wake-up call, Castle-Saunders says. She's gone to HealthCare.gov to look at the plans, but even now she's not 100 percent sure she's going to enroll.
"I really do want to sign up. And I most likely will," she says. "But it's just kind of like, oh God, OK, I have to put ... that money out there. So I really am dragging my feet."
The administration can't afford much of that feet dragging, however — it needs millions more like Castle-Saunders to sign up.