That's because new federal rules limit what insurers can charge based on age. The young, in effect, are to subsidize the old to a greater degree.
Some experts fear that too many will skip coverage and opt to pay the penalties, which are minimal in the first few years. In 2014, people who don't have health insurance face a penalty of $95 or 1% of their income, whichever is greater. Those fines do increase over time, hitting $695 or 2.5% of income by 2016.
Still, many younger people will qualify for health insurance at little or no cost. Because of their lower incomes, many stand to benefit from premium subsidies in the healthcare law and they may even qualify for no-cost coverage through Medicaid. The state is trying to enroll more than 2 million people in subsidized private coverage or Medi-Cal by the end of next year.
People under 30 can also qualify for a bare-bones catastrophic plan at a lower cost. In Massachusetts, which introduced a similar healthcare expansion in 2006, enough young people showed up to keep rates stable, researchers found.
Speaking in Los Angeles in August at a healthcare town hall, Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, the state insurance exchange, touted affordable options.
Lee cited the hypothetical example of a 27-year-old man in Long Beach who earns $31,000 a year. That policyholder could get a mid-level Silver plan for as little as $184 a month and face no more than $6,350 in out-of-pocket medical costs.
Some audience members questioned whether a young person would be willing to pay that much. But Lee defended it as a good deal.
"We haven't made healthcare free, but we feel good about having affordable options," he said.
The federal law has already had an effect on coverage for some young people by allowing them to stay on parents' coverage until age 26. More than 3 million young people nationwide have taken advantage of that option.
Enrollment on Tuesday and in the first few weeks may be low because coverage under the federal healthcare overhaul doesn't begin until Jan. 1 at the earliest. As the rollout begins, there are concerns about glitches with California's online enrollment system and whether the state has enough enrollment counselors ready and trained.
But some gentle nagging from Mom could make all the difference. Annette Halpern says she worries that her son Max, the San Diego law student, will get too busy and put off making a decision. Enrollment in the state exchange lasts six months, ending March 31.
"I'm wondering how many of his generation are procrastinating and not doing their homework," she said. "I don't want to be too much of a helicopter parent."