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Young Adults Twice as Likely to Be Uninsured Than Middle-Aged Americans

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, June 25, 2009

Almost half of young adults–a group some would argue are the most insurable–went without health coverage for more than one month in 2006 and almost one-fourth, or 3.5 million Americans, were uninsured for the entire year, according to a new federal report.

Authors of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality report said this population, ages 19-23, were almost twice as likely to be uninsured all year as adults ages 45–64. The agency compiled the report based on most recent data from the ongoing Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.

Most significantly, nearly one-third of those who had no insurance for an entire year felt health insurance was not worth the cost.

It was not clear from the report how much money the illnesses and injuries in this group of uninsured cost the healthcare system through uncompensated care and how much the patients paid out-of-pocket.

The group is largely healthy, with only 6.5% reporting they'd been diagnosed with any form of chronic condition by a health provider.

But, the authors said, the fact that a disproportionately larger numbers of people in this age bracket are uninsured relative to older groups of adults is cause for concern.

The report, entitled "Characteristics of Uninsured Young Adults: Estimates for the U.S. Civilian Noninstitutionalized Population, 19-23 Years of Age, 2006," was written by Karen Beauregard and Kelly Carper.

Among its other findings:

  • Those who were uninsured for the entire year were more than twice as likely to have been unable to obtain necessary healthcare as their insured counterparts.
  • Although some insurance companies allow young adults who are students to be covered on their parents' health insurance policy until they are 23, only 18.5% were enrolled and eligible under this provision. However, of those young adults who were uninsured for the whole year, 18.6% were full-time students in contrast to 42.2% of those who had health insurance for some portion of the year, indicating that some students were able to take advantage of their parents' policies.
  • Hispanics were more than twice as likely to have no health insurance for the entire year (43.9%) than black non-Hispanics (21.1%) and whites (19%).
  • The lower the level of education attained, the more likely a young adult was to have no health coverage through the year, with 30.6% who had not graduated from high school, compared to 15.5% of those who had at least some college.
  • Males were more likely to be uninsured for the entire year (29.8%) than females (17.9%).

Joel Cohen, director of the division of Social and Economic Research for the AHRQ, suggested that females tend to not lack health coverage as much as males because in many cases, they are eligible for programs like Medicaid.

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