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Bad medical advice

Published January 18. 2014 4:00AM

The following editorial appeared recently in the Kansas City Star.

While overall enrollment in the insurance marketplaces designed under the Affordable Care Act was vigorous in December, more young and healthy consumers are needed to make the complex math of the health reform law add up.

About 2.2 million Americans have now enrolled in health coverage through the new insurance exchanges. That's a welcome number, considering the badly bungled rollout of HealthCare.gov, the online federal marketplace. The website is working much more smoothly now for enrollees, although a couple of the state-based sites still have issues.

But more than half of the enrollees so far are in the 45- to-64-year-old age bracket. That group racks up higher medical costs than the 18- to 34-year-old demographic, which accounts for only about a fourth of the enrollment so far. Insurers say they need to have younger consumers in the pool to hold down the costs of policies.

The shortage so far of the "young healthies," as they are called, isn't necessarily a cause for panic. It makes sense that older people who depend on medical care would be the first to sign up. But more youthful consumers are needed before this year's open enrollment period ends March 31.

Foes of "Obamacare" have targeted young people with unhelpful messages, urging them not to sign up for insurance and pay a fine instead.

Talk about bad advice.

Many young consumers will find they are eligible for subsidies, enabling them to buy insurance at surprisingly low rates. Those who choose to opt out will be subject to a tax penalty, and they'll receive nothing for it. What they will receive is the full bill for any routine or emergency medical expense they may accrue. And a one-time trip to the emergency room - for a sprained ankle, say - can run into thousands of dollars.

Considerable confusion continues to swirl around the health care law. Health and community groups should step up efforts to educate people, especially young consumers, about the exchanges.

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