THE UNINSURED: Young Adults Lack Coverage
Young adults ages 19-29 are two times as likely to be uninsured as children or people age 30 and older, according to a report released this week from the Commonwealth Fund. Over the last ten years, the proportion of young adults without health coverage has risen from 22% to 30%. Young adults now account for 12 million of the 44 million uninsured nationwide. For young people, lacking insurance can mean barriers to care and "puts [them] at risk for catastrophic medical expenses." Young people without insurance are twice as likely as those with coverage to forgo medical treatment and twice as likely not to have seen a doctor in the previous year. They also are more than twice as likely to wait "as long as possible" to seek medical attention.
Why Are So Many Uninsured?
Young adults are in a vulnerable time span, at a point when they can no longer be covered under their parents' insurance, but also may have just begun jobs where insurance is not offered, according to the study. Those who can afford to remain in school full-time are typically covered under their parents' health plans, but the report notes that parental health coverage is "an opportunity that mainly benefits the sons and daughters of higher-income families" (Commonwealth Fund release, 5/24). Only 6% of young adults who are from families with incomes in the top 20% and are enrolled in school full time go uninsured, compared to 90% of young adults who are full time students and from low-income families. Only 1% of young adults from the wealthiest families who do not attend school full time lack insurance (Reuters, 5/24). Report coauthor and Commonwealth Fund Vice President Cathy Schoen said: "As they reach their 19th birthday, young men and women find themselves on their own before they have achieved full independence or secured a job with health benefits. As a nation we need to reexamine family insurance rules that don't provide for children over the age of 19 unless they are full-time students, and promote initiatives that encourage low-wage firms to offer employees insurance to protect our sons and daughters in these transitional times." Even those young people who are working are less likely to have employer-sponsored insurance because they often start out in entry-level positions or find themselves in temporary positions that are unlikely to offer health benefits. Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis said, "At the time in life when they are just beginning to build careers and start families, young adults need as much help as they can get -- especially access to health care. Our system of employer-based health insurance fails young workers, who often find themselves no longer covered under their parents' plans yet working in jobs that don't provide adequate coverage." The report is based on a survey conducted January 1999 through May 1999 of 5,002 adults ages 18-64 and the March 1999 Current Population Survey (Commonwealth Fund release, 5/24).