Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post's fact checker, gave the Obama administration two Pinocchios for claiming that 35 percent of the people who enrolled in the exchanges were under age 35. This was close to the administration's original target of 40 percent for people between the ages of 18-34. Kessler pointed out that the administration was able to get the figure up from a widely reported 28 percent share being between the ages of 18-34 to the 35 percent number by adding children under the age of 18. As Kessler rightly points out, this was deceptive since we should be looking at a different target if we include children. On this basis he awarded the White House two Pinocchios.
There is little grounds for disputing Kessler here, the Obama administration was being deliberately deceptive. The question is the significance of the issue. Kessler says the issue is important because:
"The 'young invincibles' are considered a key to the health law’s success, since they are healthier and won’t require as much health care as older Americans. If the proportion of young and old enrollees was out of whack, insurance companies might feel compelled to boost premiums, which some feared would lead to a cycle of even fewer younger adults and higher premiums."
In fact, the young invincible story is actually mostly wrong. The difference in premiums by age group largely corresponds to the difference in average expenses. An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that even an extreme skewing by age (young people sign up in half of their proportion of the uninsured) would raise costs by less than two percent.
It matters much more for the finances of the system whether there is a skewing by health status than by age. In fact a healthy 60-year old is much more valuable to the system than a healthy 30-year old since they will pay roughly three times the premium. Anyhow, Kessler is right in calling out the White House for its deception on these numbers, however he is wrong about their significance.
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