Before last year, the number of young adults going without health insurance had reached crisis levels. In 2009, nearly 15 million young adults between the ages of 19 and 29 lacked health insurance, 4 million more than a decade earlier. After being covered as children, these young adults mostly lost coverage when they were kicked off their parents’ insurance plans after college or at age 20, 21 or 22, depending on the insurance company, or after they aged out of Medicaid or SCHIP programs. After losing that coverage, they could not afford to purchase their own insurance on the open market, being unemployed, in low-paying jobs without benefits or in school and without coverage.
Had it not been for the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) last year, the number of uninsured young adults would have continued to grow. As an unemployed, recent college graduate, I would most likely have been one of the newly uninsured in 2010 or had to pay for drastically more expensive coverage on my own.
Thankfully, the ACA’s provision mandating that insurers allow children up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ insurance has allowed me and thousands of young adults like me to remain covered. It scares me to think about what would have happened had I been forced to remain uninsured after I graduated. I have only had minor medical problems over the last year, but an accident or other serious malady would have been financially ruinous. Even if I had foregone the treatment of a small problem to save money, the problem could have developed into a much larger one.
However, other young adults with more serious health issues have benefited from this ACA provision more than me. My friends who have remained on their families’ insurance and who have chronic conditions, especially mental health conditions, are particularly benefiting from not having to discontinue their care. Even those who might have been able to buy more expensive coverage if forced are benefiting from remaining on their parents’ plans and having to pay less.
At a time when it is particularly risky to be young in America, this new coverage is particularly important. Because of the economic recession, unemployment amongst the young is increasing rapidly. According to economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, of college graduates with a bachelor’s degree not enrolled in further schooling, only 74% had a full-time job in December of 2010, down from 83% in 2007.
Unemployment is already crippling both financially and psychologically, especially for the young; I am thankful that a lack of health insurance is less of a worry for my generation than it was before the ACA. The ACA will even continue to make coverage more affordable for my generation in the future with the expansion of Medicaid and the establishment of state health insurance exchanges. In my mind, expanding health insurance for young adults, especially allowing young adults to remain on parents’ plans, is one of the most significant achievements of the ACA and a demonstration of how health reform is already reshaping the healthcare landscape of America.
Intern, Health & Medicine Policy Research Group