Millions of young adults benefit from health care reform

WASHINGTON — The health care law signed by President Barack Obama last year has now helped as many as 2.5 million young adults get health insurance, despite the lagging economy, new data released by the federal government indicate.

Since the beginning of 2010, the percentage of people aged 19-25 without health insurance declined from 34 percent to 29 percent.

The sharp increase in coverage for a group that has historically lacked insurance appears driven by a provision in the new law that allows young adults to remain on their parents’ health plans until they turn 26, according to independent experts such as Paul Fronstin, senior research associate at the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Almost all of the increase in coverage was in private insurance rather than in public programs such as Medicaid, according to the data from the National Health Interview Survey.

Overall, the share of nonelderly adults without insurance dropped slightly from 22.3 percent in 2010 to 21.3 percent in 2011.

The expansion in coverage for young adults has cheered the Obama administration and other supporters of the sweeping law, most benefits of which will not become available until 2014.

“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 2.5 million more young adults don’t have to live with the fear and uncertainty of going without health insurance,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday. “Moms and dads around the country can breathe a little easier knowing their children are covered.”

Facing persistent public skepticism, the administration has been trying to highlight early benefits of the law such as the coverage for young adults and the expansion of aid to seniors who hit the coverage gap in Medicare’s drug benefit, known as the “doughnut hole.”

Last week, the administration reported that 2.65 million people with Medicare coverage have benefited from the additional aid, saving them more than $1.5 billion on their prescriptions.

Allowing young adults, most of whom are healthy, to remain on their parents’ health plans is not as expensive as expanding coverage to other populations with higher medical costs.

But independent analyses have estimated that the expansion could boost premium costs by 1 percent to 2 percent.

More ominously, the dramatic rise in the number of young people who are relying on their parents for health care might be a reminder of just how bad the economy still is, said Fronstin at the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

“If you have all these young adults who can’t find jobs, they can’t get health coverage on their own,” he said. “I don’t know if we would have seen the same effect if unemployment was down below 4 percent.”

Without the option to enroll on their parents’ plans, many more young people would likely lack insurance, Fronstin added.

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