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Fewer Young Americans Lack Health Care Coverage

TUESDAY, June 18 (HealthDay News) -- The number of young adults without health care coverage in the United States has declined significantly over the past few years, according to a new government report released Tuesday.

That's the good news.

Not-so-good are the findings that: 45.5 million people, 14.7 percent of the American population, still don't have health care coverage, and 4.9 million kids under the age of 18 also lack health insurance.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics used data on 108,131 people contacted for the 2012 National Health Interview Survey to compile the latest profile on health insurance coverage.

Of immediate interest was the apparent impact of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's landmark health reform law passed in 2010.

The new report found that 27 percent of young adults between the ages of 19 and 25 had no health care coverage in 2012, down from more than 35 percent in 2010, according to report co-author Robin Cohen, a CDC health statistician.

At the same time, the number of young adults covered by a private health plan increased, from 49 percent in 2010 to 58 percent in 2012.

Health policy experts said the increase is most likely due to a provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that allows young adults to remain on their parents' health insurance plan up to age 26.

"You see a significant decline in uninsurance among young adults and a corresponding uptick in private health insurance coverage," said Kathleen Stoll, director of health policy at Families USA, a national nonprofit health reform organization. "That is clearly due to the provisions in the ACA that allowed young adults to stay on their parents' health coverage. That's a positive change you can directly tie to the ACA."

By comparison, the number of uninsured adults aged 26 to 35 remained the same at 27 percent between 2010 and 2012. There also was no big difference in private coverage for this age group, which was about 59 percent in both 2010 and 2012.

The effectiveness of this single provision of the Affordable Care Act should give hope to the 45.5 million Americans still without health insurance in 2012, said Sara Collins, vice president for affordable health insurance at the Commonwealth Fund, a health policy think tank.

That's because most of the major provisions of the ACA take effect in 2014, including the opening of the health insurance exchanges and a major expansion of Medicaid, she noted.

"Going forward, starting next year, we're probably going to start seeing the same thing across the age spectrum," Collins said. "Next year we're likely to see a new trajectory of uninsured rates across the whole population."

The continuing need for health reform is reflected in another part of the CDC report, which found that enrollment in high-deductible health plans increased from 29 percent in 2011 to 31.1 percent in 2012, Stoll said.

"That doesn't sound like a huge increase, but it reflects a steady pattern of increasingly high deductibles in private health insurance," she said. "The trend is higher and higher out-of-pocket costs, and less coverage for your premium dollars."

In addition, the report found, more than 50 percent of those who had private health insurance not offered through employment were enrolled in a high-deductible plan.

The Affordable Care Act includes protection against high deductibles and copayments, particularly for low-income families. "I think we'll see some help from the ACA regarding out-of-pocket costs," Stoll said. "One of the policies ACA addresses is to make sure that people don't get hit with higher and higher out-of-pocket costs."

The report also showed:

  • While there were 45.5 million people uninsured at the time of the interviews in 2012, 57.7 million (18.6 percent) had been uninsured for at least part of the year prior to interview, and 34.1 million (11.1 percent) had been uninsured for more than a year at the time of interview.

  • Hispanics were more likely than whites, blacks or Asian Americans to be uninsured. More than one-quarter of Hispanics who were interviewed were uninsured at the time, and one-third had been uninsured for at least part of the year before that.

  • Among the 43 states included in this report, the percentage of uninsured individuals ranged from 4.8 percent in Massachusetts to 20.9 percent in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about the Affordable Care Act.

SOURCES: Robin Cohen, Ph.D., health statistician, National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Kathleen D. Stoll, director, health policy, Families USA; Sara Collins, Ph.D., vice president for affordable health insurance, Commonwealth Fund

Reviewed Date: --

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