Obamacare Needs These Healthy Nashvillians, But Do They Need Health Insurance?

Dion Pankratz says he also never had insurance growing up. His father is an entrepreneur. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

Dion Pankratz says he also never had insurance growing up. His father is an entrepreneur. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

Obamacare recruiters are on a kind of scavenger hunt in Tennessee. They desperately need young healthy people to sign up for insurance to balance out all the older, sicker people who are more eager to enroll. They’re difficult to find, in some instances, and perhaps even harder to convince they need insurance.

This worry-free uninsured population has been dubbed the “young invincibles,” which may explain why they’re not so hard to find at a rock gym like Climb Nashville.

“I absolutely am uninsured and happy about it,” says Dion Pankratz of Dickson.

Surveys find roughly a quarter of Americans in their late 20s and early 30s have been going without insurance.

Pankratz is 30 and self-employed. He installs custom car upholstery. He’s got a wife and new child. To pay for that big hospital bill, they saved up and laid down cash.

Pankratz prefers doing what he can to live a healthy lifestyle and pay for doctors as a last resort:

Not eating out fast food, not eating out at restaurants, cooking my own meals at home. I mean I’ve probably been three years, and I haven’t had one sickness.

A few years ago, Pankratz took a spill off a climbing wall and opted not to go to the hospital. But it worked out alright.

Pankratz just isn’t that worried something more catastrophic could happen, even though the bills could quickly swamp his family finances.

“Everybody always tries to play on those fears that’s going to happen, and I think that’s just kinda the chance you take in life,” he says.

People like Pankratz may just opt to pay the $95 fine next year instead of getting mandatory health coverage, which could easily cost that much or more every month.

‘It Doesn’t Really Seem Fair’

About 20 feet up the climbing wall, Drew Johnson takes direction from the ground, stretching for the next hold. His striped tank top reveals he spends a lot of time in the weight room.

“I eat healthy. I don’t smoke. I play sports but I try not to get hurt,” he says. “I’m doing alright so far.”

Johnson is a contract engineer with Nissan – no health insurance. It hasn’t been an issue until now. And who likes paying insurance premiums? But they have a particular sting for someone who never has.

To Johnson, there’s just something a little frustrating about knowing your payments will likely be subsidizing coverage for sicker people.

“It doesn’t seem really fair, but I guess that’s the way it is,” Johnson says.

This isn’t to say young people don’t care about insurance.

RJ Clark has even been a little stressed about it. He’s a freelancer, turning children’s books into smartphone apps. And he’s about to turn 26, when he has to roll off his parent’s policy.

“Right now it’s either I’m going to ask my boss for a raise, or I’m going to find a different fulltime salary with benefits,” he says.

Signing up for an Obamacare plan is not on the to-do list for the young and healthy, and it’s probably just as well given the problems with the website launch. But Obamacare recruiters say they’ll come around. Young invincibles may have another shared quality – they’re procrastinators.

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