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Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

HEALTH REFORM: Young Adults May Be Key to Making It All Work

Will they buy into the idea of insurance coverage? Experts are split on that question

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What's more, within the young adult population, certain demographic groups "could potentially benefit more," she added.

"For example, nationwide, the uninsurance rate for white 18- to 34-year-olds is 21 percent, but for Latinos it's 47 percent," she said, and for blacks, it's 33 percent.

Beginning in October, young people can use the new state health insurance exchanges to buy a private health plan, often with the help of federal tax credits, or enroll in Medicaid, if they qualify.

Yet only one in four young people (27 percent) is even aware of the exchanges. And among those who were uninsured for a period of time in the prior year, less than one in five (19 percent) know about the exchanges, according to a recent Commonwealth Fund report based on a March survey.

However, the report noted, young adults recognize the importance of having health insurance. For example, more than two-thirds (67 percent) of 19- to 29-year-olds who are offered insurance through their jobs enroll in that coverage.

Millions also took advantage of a provision in the Affordable Care Act that became effective in September 2010, allowing young adults under age 26 to stay on their parents' health plans.

The findings "dispel the notion that young adults don't think they need health insurance," economist Sara Collins, vice president for affordable health insurance at The Commonwealth Fund, the New York-based health foundation, said at a recent media briefing. "Instead, affordability is likely a major barrier," she said.

One young adult's quest for insurance

Dennis Byrd, 26, is director of business development at a tiny start-up company in Rockville, Md., that doesn't yet offer health insurance to employees.

"It's something we've talked about; we just haven't jumped the gun on it yet," explained Byrd, who has had asthma since childhood. Byrd shells out about $50 a month just on inhalers.

In the interim, he's looking to buy his own coverage. He's priced individual policies starting at a low of $150 a month, but depending on the coverage, "it can drastically go upward, especially with a pre-existing condition," he said.

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