HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, June 2, 2006

Health Insurance for the Young

Ezra Klein has written a terrific article concerning why young people often do not have health insurance.  He states,

You know the stat — 46 million Americans uninsured. What you may only have guessed is how many of them are young. According to a new Commonwealth Fund study, 13.7 million young adults (ages 19-29) lack coverage. That’s an increase of 2.5 million since 2000. Even though we make up just 17 percent of the under-65 population, we’re a full 30 percent of the non-elderly uninsured. And we’re the fastest growing group, too. Hurray for us.

Of those who don’t attend college, nearly half will be uninsured during the year after high school. Among college graduates, two out of five will lose their insurance after leaving the university’s comforting embrace. It’s a problem that affects rich, upwardly mobile kids and poorer, less affluent ones alike, and it happens because we stand at the nexus of our parents’ coverage and deteriorating benefits for low-income and young workers.

Growing up, most of us have health insurance through our parents. But if you take a pass at college, you’re generally dropped as soon as you turn 19 — even if you remain a dependent. Or maybe you come from a low-income family and get your health care through Medicaid or the SCHIP. Unless you qualify for Medicaid as an adult (and childless young folks rarely do), you’re out of luck.

Of course, if you’re graduating high school, you’re probably entering the job market. What about employer-based care? Well, jobs for high school graduates are generally low-wage and transient, exactly the sort of workplaces least likely to offer health coverage. Sorry.

Meanwhile, say you went off to college. Good choice! You may have been kept on your parents’ plan, or gotten on the school’s insurance. But then you graduate. Tough day: You’re leaving the womb, etc. Now you’re working an internship or entry-level position. How likely is health care? Not very. My roomie is a paid research associate at a top think tank, but they don’t offer their RAs coverage. No wonder they favor universal health care — then they wouldn’t have to feel so guilty.

This hits at all levels. The low-income are worse off, to be sure, but studies found that two-thirds of young adults between 19-23 went without care for some period during 1996-2000. That’s because the number of people without coverage is just a snapshot at any given time. If you looked at the number of people who were without health coverage at point or another over a period of time, it affects even more people.

The upside, as you sometimes hear, is that we’re young, we don’t need coverage. After all, who needs Blue Cross when you’re invincible, right? Not quite. It’s true that young people are at lower risk for, say, cardiovascular disease. But 14 percent of us are obese. 3.5 million get pregnant every year (and you need pre-natal care). One-third of all HIV diagnoses are made among young adults, and we’re by far the most likely to limp, stumble, or get carried into an emergency room with some sort of physical injury.

Read the whole article, it is quite good.  [bm]

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