Miami-Dade County

Millennials in North Miami encouraged to sign up for health insurance

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and North Miami Mayor Lucie Tondreau want millennials to come to the same realization Allan Zullinger did: that they’re not invincible.

Sebelius and Tondreau were together at the Joe Celestin Center on Saturday morning for National Youth Enrollment Day, billed as a day of action to promote insurance options available through the Healthcare Marketplace to young adults like Zullinger.

Zullinger, a third year 28-year-old law student at Florida International University, only had insurance through FIU before the Marketplace program was available. It cost him $100 per month and had a $2,500 deductible, but he dropped the FIU insurance when he learned it wouldn’t cover a $500 skin cream he needed.

“The only thing I looked at was the price because I’m never going to use it,” Zullinger said. “I’m invincible, of course.”

He said he remained without insurance until a car hit him in January while he was riding his bike leaving him scrapped and bruised. It was after that he decided to enroll in a health care plan through the Healthcare Marketplace.

Zullinger acknowledged the program’s website “is not perfect” and the sign-up process can take a “little time,” but he said the peace of mind from having insurance makes the registration worth it.

He said his deductible for prescription medication now is $150.

Although Zullinger has health coverage, that is not the case for many of his peers. About 25 percent of young adults between 18 and 34 have health insurance, according to Tondreau.

“As a result, half of young people struggle with medical bills and medical debt,” Tondreau said.

The event was also to signal the final six weeks of the open enrollment period; the deadline to enroll is March 31.

Insurers need young people to enroll to offset the costs for older, sicker people who will sign up for plans they might not have been able to get before the ACA passed. If there are not enough young people, insurers will likely raise rates.

According to figures the Department of Health and Human Services released Wednesday, 3.3 million people have enrolled so far nationwide. Though nearly 300,000 Floridians signed up, which is about 9 percent of the nation’s total, only 23 percent of them are 18 to 34.

“Florida leads the way in people signing up and that’s good news,” Sebelius said. “But we have a lot of outreach to do to people who don’t know about it yet.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a critic of the president’s signature health plan, used the visit by Sebilius to press the Obama administration on two fronts: a taxpayer-funded bailout and the plan’s impact on current beneficiaries of Medicare Advantage.

“Secretary Sebelius should not expect to leave Florida without addressing the potential for a taxpayer-funded bailout under ObamaCare and anticipated Medicare Advantage cuts for over a million Florida seniors,” Rubio said in a statement. “Secretary Sebelius should explain why she believes ObamaCare is so great that it’s worth bailing out insurance companies to save it and cutting existing benefits under Medicare Advantage to fund it.

Rubio is sponsoring a bill, S.1726, The ObamaCare Taxpayer Bailout Prevention Act, which would repeal section 1342 of ObamaCare, which allows for taxpayer-funded bailouts of health insurance companies to cover their losses.

The Affordable Care Act does take steps to decrease the growth in Medicare spending. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates about $716 billion in lesser spending through 2022. About one-third of the savings come from shrinking Medicare Advantage, a subset of the program that is run by private insurers.

Started under President George W. Bush, Medicare Advantage was supposed to inject competition into the market for senior care, but the plans ended up costing more.

For those who signed up on Saturday, medical coverage starts on March 1, Sebelius said. She said there are 137 plans for people in the Miami area.

During the last two weeks, Tondreau said North Miami city employees have helped 285 people enroll. North Miami residents can seek enrollment help at city hall, the North Miami Public Library or the Celestin Center.

Tondreau said that a University of Miami study found that a significant number of people in zip codes 33161, 33167 and 33168, which are all in North Miami, suffer from breast, prostate or cervical cancer.

According to the study, those are illnesses conducive to people who experience economic challenges, said City Manager Stephen Johnson.

“We will continue to have events and announcements throughout this phase specifically in those zip codes,” Johnson said.

Cool & Dre, hip-hop producers and North Miami natives, also attended the event to help spread news about the Healthcare Marketplace and enrolling.

“There’s a lot of misinformation,” Andre “Dre” Christopher Lyon said. “We gotta get information out there.”

Miami Herald State/Politics editor Sergio R. Bustos contributed to this report.