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New Law Will Add Millions of Young Adults to Insurance Rolls, Commonwealth Fund Reports

By Jane Norman, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

May 21, 2010 -- The new health care law has the potential to cover millions more young adults because of provisions allowing them to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26, expanding Medicaid coverage and offering subsidies under the new insurance exchanges, says a Commonwealth Fund report issued Friday.

As of 2008, there were nearly 14 million uninsured Americans between the ages of 19 and 29, representing three of every 10 people without insurance in the United States, the report says. "But this figure most likely underestimates the problem," it adds. "Unemployment has soared in this age group over the past year, reaching 17.2 percent among 20- to 24-year-olds and certainly increasing the number of young adults without health insurance."

Although young adults tend to be healthier than older people, the consequences of not having insurance can be severe, the report says. A survey the fund conducted in 2009 found that 46 percent of young adults with chronic health conditions who didn't have insurance during at least part of the last year said their condition had worsened because they didn't get care soon enough. About 60 percent of those uninsured said they had problems paying medical bills.

The survey also asked young adults who went to college and had insurance during that time what happened to them when they graduated. Commonwealth found that 28 percent lost their coverage, 30 percent retained it and 39 percent switched to a new source such as an employer. Often those who switched had a gap in coverage, however.

The new law allowing parents to add their children to their policies officially goes into effect on Sept. 23 but some major health insurers including Blue Cross Blue Shield and UnitedHealthcare have announced they will implement it earlier. Federal workers, however, must wait until the beginning of the subscription year for the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program on Jan. 1.

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