As the administration struggles to make Obamacare work, perhaps the most pressing job for the White House is to convince young people -- the so-called "young invincibles" -- to purchase health insurance. The system has to have young, healthy customers paying for insurance -- but not actually needing much care -- to keep rates down for older, sicker customers who do need care. Without that balance, rates could skyrocket and Obamacare could collapse.
So, for months the administration has been working to reach young people, through videos, special events, and social media appeals. But there's one thing the campaign has not featured: the personal testimony of Barack Obama. In fact, it appears the president might not be the example the White House wants to set for young people.
"Look, I do remember what it's like being 27 or 28," Obama said at the White House Youth Summit earlier this month, "and aside from the occasional basketball injury, most of the time I kind of felt like I had nothing to worry about." Now, however, the president is encouraging young people to worry. His own carefree attitude as a young man, Obama continued, "is what most people think until they have something to worry about. But at that point, oftentimes it's too late."
The president's message to young people, he said, is to "remember and remind your friends and your peers — imagine what happens if you get sick, what happens with the massive bills."
It's not clear whether the president had health coverage as a young man. He made no mention of it in his memoir Dreams From My Father, which covered his college years, his brief stint in business after graduation, his decision at 24 to become a community organizer, and his decision at 27 to attend Harvard Law School. The question is also absent from David Maraniss' biography of Obama, which covers his life through the community organizing years.
Obama did discuss health insurance and health care in several places in his campaign tract The Audacity of Hope, including one personal episode from 2001 in which he and wife Michelle feared that their younger daughter Sasha, then just three months old, might have had meningitis. They took her to an emergency room for evaluation, where it turned out she did not have the potentially fatal disease. "Unlike millions of Americans who've gone through a similar ordeal, I had a job and insurance at the time," Obama wrote. At that point, Obama was 40 years old and established in his career.
On Wednesday I asked the White House whether the president had purchased health insurance during his young invincible years. After checking, a spokesman said he wouldn't have an answer to the question. So it's not clear what the president's story is. But it is clear that when it comes to the young purchasing health care, Barack Obama is not holding himself up as an example of what to do.