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ACA Helps Millions of Young Adults Gain Health Insurance

Within one year, the share of uninsured young adults fell by one-sixth in 2011, the largest annual decline for any group since 1997 when the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began collecting data. Researchers at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the American Enterprise Institute confirmed that this rapid decline was due to the Affordable Care Act dependent’s provision that allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until their 26th birthday.

The rate of uninsured young adults fell to 27.9% in 2011, from 33% the previous year, providing coverage to about 1.6 million young adults. In a New York Times article released earlier this week, Joseph Antos of conservative American Enterprise Institute agreed that the provision of the law was the only possible explanation for such an increase, noting that young adults were among the hardest hit in the recession and would likely otherwise have been uninsured.

The estimates were drawn from a preliminary Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report of CDC National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data from 35,000 households suggesting the number of uninsured American’s fell for the first time in four years with the largest increase occurring among young adults and children’s coverage remaining steady. In contrast, for individuals in the next age group, 26-35 years old, the share of uninsured rose, affirming that health reform brought down the rate of uninsured young adults. Further, among people ages 26-64, for whom most health reform provisions will not take effect until 2014, the rate of private coverage fell by 0.8%, marking a fourth consecutive year of decline in private insurance coverage for this group.

Although the national percent of uninsured fell since 2010, it is still higher (15.1%) than it was in 2007 before the Great Recession (14.5%), primarily due to the increase in joblessness. The dependents’ coverage provision of health reform took effect in September 2010, expanding the age limit for young adults to receive private insurance through their parents’ plans from 18 or 21 to 26 years of age; a critical period when many young adults begin major transitions between high school, college and careers, that often leave them unable to afford personal health coverage. This and other health reform provisions (e.g. prohibiting pre-existing conditions, prohibiting insurance companies from rescinding coverage, eliminating lifetime limits, providing a Health Benefits Exchange, etc.) are expected to decrease the rate of uninsured Americans by 36 million in 2019 after the bill’s provisions have taken full effect.



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