HHS report stresses health insurance needs for youth

Young people often lose coverage during life transitions.
Katie Prince / Graphic Designer

Young people are less likely to have health insurance and more likely to need it for emergency treatment than any other age group, according to report released Thursday by the federal government.

The report was released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services based on the 2008 general population survey and a study by the Commonwealth Fund. It said 30 percent of people between the ages 19 to 29 do not have health insurance either from their parents’ employers or their own job. Among older adults, ages 30 to 64, only 17 percent lack health insurance.

Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, said in a statement this disparity is result of teenagers losing coverage under their parents’ health plans when they become legal adults and not being able to find similar coverage in the entry-level jobs they often take. She said health care reform legislation pending before Congress should address the gap.

"More and more young adults wake up the day after their 19th birthday or on graduation day and find themselves uninsured," Sebelius said. "Health insurance reform will help insure young Americans have access to the affordable health care they need and deserve."

The report countered the notion that young adults are the healthiest and most resilient segment of the population and thus have less need for insurance. It said young adults, sometimes mistakenly called the “young invincibiles” actually have the highest emergency room visit rates.

Gwen Ratermann, associate dean of the MU Center for Health Policy, said health care reform should focus on young adults as much as aging baby boomers.

“Young adults are one of those segments that is often uninsured,” Ratermann said. “Those costs are passed onto the insured public. Although they are healthier in terms of diseases, the likelihood of costly accidents and injuries is also higher.”

MU professor emeritus of sociology Andrew Twaddle said preventive care needs among young people often contribute to rising costs because they live in urban areas with fewer primary care options.

"When people are uninsured, they tend to use emergency rooms for primary care because they simply don't have anywhere else to go,” Twaddle said. “That drives up costs because you're doing preventive care in the most expensive setting."

Rock the Vote spokeswoman Chrissy Faessen said the report showed young people who get jobs after graduating high school or college are still at risk of being left without insurance.

"The HHS report is a comprehensive look at how health care reform is affecting young adults.” Faessen said. “Fifty-nine percent of young people are working full time jobs and lacking employer coverage.”

Missouri College Republicans Chairman Jonathan Ratliff said the report showed why health insurance reform is an issue affecting young adults as well as Baby Boomers.

"I think the health care debate focused on all ages and I think the Republican plans focused on all age groups equally,” Ratliff said. “The health care bill should not focus on one particular group over another."

The report also attributed the gap to cost barriers, especially for young women. In 33 states, including Missouri, insurance companies are allowed to charge higher premiums based on age, gender and health status, which results in women being charged higher premiums during their reproductive years, sometimes as much as one and a half times as much as men the same age.

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