July 8, 2013 in City, Health

More young adults have health insurance, study finds

The Spokesman-Review
 
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Amelia Mills is 23 and still on her mother’s health insurance. The recent Whitworth University graduate has avoided potentially costly medical bills that would have added to the already-substantial debt load she carries after paying for her degree with loans.
(Full-size photo)

Like many college graduates, Amelia Mills needed a little help shifting from student to worker.

The 23-year-old recent Whitworth University graduate said staying on her mother’s health insurance policy after graduating helped her do just that.

Like Mills, fewer young adults are going without health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act, which lets young adults remain on their parents’ health plans until they’re 26.

Mills said it’s given her time to get on her feet following college. Although she took a job shortly after graduating, there was a probationary period before she was eligible for her employer’s insurance plan, and even after that the plan wasn’t as good or as affordable.

“It’s benefited me big-time,” Mills said of the health reforms many refer to as Obamacare. “It’s just been way easier with the whole transition to adulthood.”

The number of uninsured young adults declined from 2010 to 2012, reversing a historic trend, according to a study by the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit. But the number of uninsured or underinsured adults in other age ranges continues to rise, and many reported struggling to pay medical bills or avoiding needed health care due to the cost.

Since graduating, Mills has needed coverage for medication she refills monthly, glasses, a trip to the urgent care clinic for a bout of strep throat, and treatment for injuries she sustained in a minor car crash. Without it, she would have added to the $20,000-plus debt load she carries after paying for college with student loans.

“It’s kind of just been one of those years where a bunch of stuff happened, so yeah, it’s been very helpful to have that,” she said. “It’s just one less thing I have to worry about.”

Mills said that without having to worry about how she’ll meet basic health care needs, she has been able to broaden her job search. She recently accepted a position in Germany, where she will receive benefits through her job as an au pair once she arrives.

‘A major reversal in historic trends’

The recent study found a decline in uninsured young adults, from 48 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2012, a decline of about 1.9 million people, according to one of the study’s authors, Sara Collins, vice president of Affordable Health Insurance, a subsidiary of the Commonwealth Fund.

“The number of young adults who are uninsured has climbed rather steadily, particularly over the last decade,” Collins said. “We’re definitely seeing a major reversal in historic trends.”

In Washington, 62,000 young adults had gained health insurance as of December 2010, the most recent data available, because they could stay on their parents’ plan, according to the state Insurance Commissioner’s Office.

“It shows you that the provisions of the law that have gone into effect already are having their intended effect,” Collins said. “It also shows why the remaining provisions of the law, how those provisions are likely to help the enormous number of adults who remain without health insurance coverage or who have very poor health insurance coverage.”

The more recent Commonwealth Fund survey, released in April, included a sample of 3,400 19- to 64-year-olds, reached by telephone and cellphone. The findings are consistent with research conducted by other institutions.

Collins, the study’s author, said the findings underscore why it is critical to continue implementing the Affordable Care Act on schedule.

“The increase in the number of young adults who had health insurance was a major finding,” Collins said. She added, “We also found that coverage problems remain for many working-age adults.”

Nearly half of adults overall – an estimated 84 million – spent time without coverage or were underinsured in 2012, and lower-income adults were uninsured or underinsured at a higher rate.

Cost remains a hurdle for many

Costs prevent many Americans from getting the health care they need, the study also found, and adults who lack insurance or who have plans with sparse coverage are significantly less likely to stay up to date on preventive care, which could drive up health care costs long-term.

“We’ve been through a very severe economic downturn that we’re not out of yet,” Collins said. “It’s affecting young adults’ ability to go out into the labor market and they’re also emerging from college with enormous amounts of student debt.”

About 43 percent of adults 19 to 64 said that they had a medical problem and didn’t go to the doctor, didn’t fill a prescription, or skipped specialist care or follow-up tests due to the cost.

“We’re also finding people who are uninsured during the year are far less likely to get recommended preventative care like having their blood pressure checked, cholesterol checked, getting the flu shot and also not getting cancer screenings like a mammogram, colon screening and pap test. It not only affects their current health status, it also has a likely long-term effect on their ability to maintain their health.”

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