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Commonwealth Fund Report: Young Adults Care, Know They Need Insurance

By Dena Bunis, CQ HealthBeat Managing Editor

June 8, 2012 -- A new study by The Commonwealth Fund challenges the common notion that young adults are not interested in health insurance and says that of the 13.7 million people ages 19 to 25 who stayed on or enrolled in their parents' plans in 2011, 6.6 million were able to do so because of the health care overhaul.

The online representative sample of 1,863 adults ages 19 to 29 found that among those working young adults who could get insurance through their jobs, 64 percent did. Of those who did not, only 6 percent said they did not need coverage. The others who did not enroll either said they have insurance under their parents' health plans, were covered through a spouse or partner or said they couldn't afford their employer's plan.

The bottom line, Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis told reporters on a conference call, is that when affordable coverage is available, young people will enroll. "They don't think they are immortal.''

Another surprising finding was that based on the survey, 36 percent of 19-to-29 year-olds, or 16.8 million young adults, had trouble paying their medical bills, and 41 percent, or 18.9 million, delayed necessary medical care because of cost.

The researchers pointed out that even with the health care law's provisions on parental policies, 39 percent of young adults—18 million—went without health insurance at some time in 2011.

Another surprising finding was the level of medical debt some young people are carrying. More than one-third of young adults had a problem with a medical bill or were paying off a medical debt over time. And one-quarter of those paying off their medical bills had a debt of more than $4,000. Nine percent said their debt was $10,000 or more.

Sara Collins, vice president for affordable health insurance at The Commonwealth Fund and lead author on the study, said one explanation may be that for those young people who do not have insurance on the job or through their parents, policies they get in the individual market often won't cover what they need.

"We know, even though a stereotype of young adults is they are very healthy, certain health conditions and health needs are very prevalent,'' Collins said. "One is maternity. If someone in this age range does have a child, they are likely exposed to full costs."

This age group also has the highest rate of injury-related visits to emergency rooms than any other age group, Collins said. They also have high rates of HIV/AIDS and human papillomavirus (HPV).

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