December 15, 2011
Under-26 Gain Insurance Under Health-Care Overhaul
About 2.5 million young adults have gained health-insurance coverage since the health-overhaul law let people stay on their parents' plan until they turn 26, according to government figures released Wednesday.
The results could help President Barack Obama's re-election campaign boost support among young voters, whose turnout figures to be crucial to his winning a second term. While the 2010 overhaul law remains unpopular with voters overall, the young-adult insurance extension has emerged as a rare selling point liked even by opponents of the law.
Under the law, most insurance plans had to allow parents to start adding their adult children in September 2010. Many insurance plans made the change in spring 2010 to accommodate children near college-graduation time.
The percentage of those aged 19 to 25 with insurance rose to 73% this past June from 64% in September 2010, the National Center for Health Statistics found in its latest survey of insurance coverage. That translates to about 21.5 million young adults, up from 19 million.
The administration previously estimated that one million additional young adults had gained coverage by the end of March 2011 under the law.
The survey didn't ask the young adults how they had obtained coverage. But the percentage of participants between the ages of 26 and 35 with coverage didn't change during the period studied, leaving researchers to conclude that the increase for the younger adults was linked to the new provision.
Adults between ages 26 and 35 are now the least-likely age group to have insurance, the researchers found.
While much of the broader law has yet to take effect, many of the other early provisions have been slow to catch on with Americans or have irked them outright. New state and federal insurance pools designed to cover sick, uninsured people have drawn far fewer participants than the administration had hoped, in part because early premiums were high. A piece of the law that requires consumers buying over-the-counter medicines with tax-free medical accounts to get a prescription for the drugs has prompted doctors to levy surcharges for such prescriptions.
At the same time, in the latest tracking poll carried out by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, almost every individual element of the package was popular with a majority of respondents. Some 84% backed requirements that insurers provide easy-to-understand plan summaries, and 67% said they liked provisions requiring insurers to provide coverage to people regardless of their medical histories. But 63% of those same respondents said they didn't like the requirement that they carry insurance or pay a fine. And 44% of voters held an unfavorable opinion of the law overall, compared with 37% who had a favorable view.
The Obama administration on Wednesday signaled the results could feature prominently in the way that the president's re-election campaign discusses one of his most significant legislative efforts.
"It shows what a big difference this law is already making in Americans' lives," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. She said that without the additional coverage option, young adults had had to make career decisions based around whether they could obtain insurance. Others were "a car accident or a surprise diagnosis away from a lifetime of medical debt or worse," she said.
Every Republican presidential candidate has pledged to repeal the entire health-overhaul law upon taking office. Democrats see a successful counterstrategy in pointing out that that would mean millions of young Americans could fall off their parents' plans and lose coverage altogether.
Sarah Marie James, 24 years old, said she struggled to get insurance after she graduated from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn., last year and spent months looking for a job. With asthma and other pre-existing conditions, she couldn't get her own policy, so her parents spent $350 a month to keep her on theirs under the Cobra program. But after the health law passed, her parents folded her back into their plan at no additional monthly cost in premiums.
"I think it will play a big role in my decision in the election," said Ms. James, who now works as a receptionist at a consulting firm in Minneapolis. "The last thing I want to see is it repealed."