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'Obamacare' May Mean Healthier Young Adults

Coverage through parent's plan might also protect against medical costs, researchers say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Karen Pallarito

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, June 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A popular provision of the Affordable Care Act that allows young adults to stay on a parent's health insurance plan up to age 26 may be good for their health and financial security, a large study suggests.

Having that coverage is associated with a 6.2 percentage-point increase in the probability of young adults reporting excellent health and 4 percentage-point gain in mental health, compared with a group of somewhat older peers, the study authors said.

Being enrolled in a parent's health plan may also yield financial benefits. Young adults' annual out-of-pocket spending dropped 18 percent, compared with adults in their late 20s and early 30s.

The study shows that "insurance coverage makes a difference for many types of people, including relatively healthy young adults," said study lead author Dr. Kao-Ping Chua, a pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital and a Harvard University doctoral candidate in health policy.

Chua, along with Dr. Benjamin Sommers of the Harvard School of Public Health, reported their study findings in the June 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as some people call it, requires most health plans that cover children to allow young adults to enroll, too. Adult children may stay on a parent's health plan until age 26.

The "dependent coverage" provision was implemented back in September 2010, and remains one of the least controversial aspects of the very controversial Affordable Care Act. A Senate Republican proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare, introduced this January, retains that element of the law.

Previous studies have shown that allowing young adults to stay on their parents' health plans increases their insurance coverage and access to care. But not much is known about the impact of the Obamacare provision on health and medical spending.

The researchers behind the new study drew up a sample of more than 60,000 people participating in an annual U.S. households survey from 2002 to 2011. They tossed out data from 2010, the year the dependent coverage provision took effect.

That left one year of data from the post-Obamacare period.

The research team followed two groups: young people, ages 19 to 25, and a control group of adults, ages 26 to 34, before and after the coverage provision's implementation. This allowed researchers to filter out any changes affecting the entire health system and to isolate the effects of expanding coverage just to the younger group.

The study linked dependent coverage to a 7.2 percentage-point bump in insurance coverage among young adults, as well as self-reported increases in physical and mental health.

Dr. Robert Fortuna, assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y., said expanding access to health care likely contributed to the increases in health.

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