Number of young adults with health insurance increases after new law

The change allows young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance longer.
Casey Purcella / Graphic Designer

About one million more young adults had health insurance at the beginning of this year than the year before, according to two surveys released Wednesday.

Data from National Health Interview Survey showed that in the first three months of 2011, the proportion of adults ages 19 to 25 who had insurance increased to 69.6 percent. That figure is 3.5 percent higher than in 2010, an increase of approximately one million people.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index Survey, also released Wednesday, showed that the percent of adults ages 18 to 25 with health insurance increased to 75.2 percent, up about 4 percent from last year.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said the increases could largely be attributed to a provision of the federal health care reform law passed in 2010 that allows children to remain covered by their parents’ health insurance policies until the age of 26.

Before the law took effect, some health insurance plans held by parents stopped covering their children after they reached the age of 18 or 21, leaving some completely uninsured.

Sebelius said the new law allowed children who had lost coverage to move back onto their parents’ plans and kept children who were already insured on their parents’ plan.

“That’s really great considering that, a year ago, young adults were among the most vulnerable (people) in the insurance market,” she said.

Sebelius said adults under the age of 26 who were not covered by their parents’ plans had faced difficulties finding insurance because many are attending college or are working part-time jobs that do not provide employer-sponsored health insurance.

Even students who have graduated from college or who have been working for a few years might have difficulty finding jobs that might provide them with insurance. The unemployment rate for all 20- to 24-year-olds increased from 8.2 percent in 2006 to 15.5 percent in 2010.

Sebelius said young adults are twice as likely as older adults to not purchase health insurance, thinking their young age and good physical health will keep them from needing medical care. But Sebelius said such an approach doesn’t take into account accidents that could be covered by insurance.

“Going without insurance puts young adults one car accident or one injury away from a lifetime of medical debt," she said.

Rick Kronick, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said increasing the number of young adults who are covered by a health insurance plan could reduce the likelihood that young adults would seek medical care and refuse to pay for it because of financial constraints.

Hospitals pass the expense of that uncompensated care on to patients who do pay, which can lead to higher insurance premiums.

“(Increased coverage of young adults) will be a benefit to hospitals and doctors, and also people who have to pay for that uncompensated care through their health insurance premiums,” Kronick said.

Jennifer Mishory, the deputy director of the group Young Invincibles, praised both the federal law change and the resulting increase in insured adults. Young Invincibles advocated for the interests of younger adults, who Mishory said face economic obstacles due to the ongoing recession and “discrimination” by insurance companies who deny them coverage if they have a pre-existing condition.

Mishory said the group would continue to advocate for ways to increase the percentage of covered young adults.

“We want to do our part to keep that momentum going,” Mishory said.

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