Young and healthy needed to make Obamacare mandate work

Under Obamacare, companies can no longer deny people with pre-existing conditions

Jen Christensen | 10/2/2013, 11:11 a.m.
Lauren Zanardelli and Graham Foster are the kind of customers the government needs to make Obamacare work.
Healthy young people, such as the owners of the Neue Southern Food Truck, are being encouraged to get insurance. Neue Southern Food Truck

— Lauren Zanardelli and Graham Foster are the kind of customers the government needs to make Obamacare work.

The chefs own and operate a bright orange hipster magnet called the Neue Southern Food Truck. The farm-to-table vehicle stands out in Greenville, South Carolina, even among the new gastropubs that dot the city's charming Main Street.

Today Zanardelli and Foster are zooming around their rented kitchen on the edge of town, preparing deep-fried Brussels sprouts, Ramen with seaweed and pumpkin sweet rolls. They won't have time after their 12-hour work day to explore the new health insurance marketplaces that opened this morning, but they look forward to seeing what Obamacare can offer them.

And that's good news for health care insurance companies.

Young and fit people like Zanardelli, 31, and Foster, 28, have to buy into the system to support the law's mandate that all people must have health insurance next year. What insurance companies save on medical costs for this healthy population will help pay for the older and sicker people who will enter into the insurance market for the first time.

Under Obamacare, companies can no longer deny policies to people with pre-existing conditions, and some 48 million Americans are uninsured, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Zanardelli and Foster have health insurance now, but it's pricey and "it covers nothing," Zanardelli said. She hasn't been to the doctor in years and shells out about $200 a month. Her policy doesn't cover prescriptions either.

"If it's not generic, I can't afford it."

She says her family warned her about this when she left her teaching job in Charlotte to follow her passion for cooking.

"One of the first things my parents said was that I was really going to miss that good health insurance, and they were right. I'm healthy, but I really do," Zaradelli said. "Ultimately, though, it's worth it. ... This doesn't feel like work to me. I love what I do. New insurance will make this even better."

The owners of Neue Southern met in 2011 when they enrolled in the culinary arts program at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte.

The two chose to move to South Carolina after working under well-known chefs in New York. The foodie fast lane, they decided, wasn't for them. When they scanned the country for opportunities, the food trucks in their East Village neighborhood inspired them. Why not bring a slice of the East Village to Greenville, where Foster got his first taste of cooking in the kitchen of his German-born grandmother?

They were true foodie pioneers. Zanardelli says the people of Greenville welcomed their European take on old Southern favorites, but when it comes to health insurance they may have been better off somewhere else.

South Carolina ranks near the bottom in the nation when it comes to access to care and health outcomes, according to the latest edition of America's Health Rankings.