MIAMI — With just weeks left to sign up for health care under the Affordable Care Act, Michelle Obama zeroed in on recruiting the crucial young adult demographic during a visit to a Miami community health center Wednesday.
The first lady congratulated a handful of residents who had just enrolled during an intimate event, asking one woman whether she had gotten her son to enroll.
"Tell him he could get hit by a car. It's crazy. They don't think about that kind of stuff," said Obama, who moments later applauded another mother for signing herself and adult son up for insurance plans. "Did you get his friends?"
"We have our most precious people walking around here at any point time being hit by a car or being struck by an unforeseen illness and they will not be able to get the care they need when it costs so little. ... We need people to make sure we reach out to the young people in our lives."
Insurers are counting on the business of the so-called "young invincibles" to offset the costs of covering older, sicker enrollees. The Obama administration has been hotly courting the crucial 18- to 34-year-old demographic through social media campaigns and celebrity endorsements.
With nearly 300,000 people signed up, Florida has led enrollment efforts among the states relying on the federal exchange. Roughly 23 percent of total enrollees, or 68,310, are young adults.
Allan Zullinger, a full-time law student who rarely went to the doctor, ended up dropping his health insurance for the past two years because he knew he'd never meet his $2,500 deductible. But when he got hit by a car while biking home in December, he knew he needed to find health coverage.
Shortly after his accident, he went online and an hour later bought a plan that costs $40 a month for medical and dental. The federal government kicks in $120 a month in tax credits.
"I'm leaving myself out to dry not having insurance. It doesn't matter how good I eat, how much I work out, how smart I think I am. I'm not smarter than a car. If something like that happens, I'm in bad shape physically and fiscally," said Zullinger, who was so pleased with the process that he now helps other students sign up.
"It really gives me peace of mind," knowing he's not on the hook for thousands in medical bills if he gets in an accident.
Roughly 4 million nationwide have enrolled in health plans under the Affordable Care Act so far, but that's still far from the White House's unofficial goal of having 7 million by the end of March.
The Obama administration ended speculation that the enrollment period might be extended beyond March after many initially struggled to sign up during the website's bungled rollout last fall. The White House also announced Wednesday a two-year extension for individuals whose policies had been cancelled because they don't meet requirements of the new health care law.
Wednesday's event is one of dozens that the White House is planning to entice last-minute consumers into the federal marketplace, reminding folks they can sign up online, over the phone or in-person with trained counselors.
President Obama will host a televised town hall focusing on Latino enrollment Thursday. Vice President Joe Biden promoted the Affordable Care Act in Atlanta on Tuesday, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is making stops in Houston and Phoenix.
In Miami, the first lady, dressed in a black patterned wrap-style dress, spoke to nearly a dozen enrollees and application counselors individually, high-fiving some for getting insurance, asking how long the process took (about 20 minutes for individuals and up to 45 minutes for a family). She encouraged counselors to stay busy and enroll as many people as possible.
"You're changing lives. You realize that. ... Keep it up," she said, affectionately squeezing counselor Suze Diogene's shoulder.
Before leaving, the first lady reflected on her time serving on the board of a community health center in Chicago, where she said she saw firsthand how primary care "can make a difference in the life of a community and a family."
"These places are not easy places to run, but you are doing God's work."
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