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Young Adults on Parents’ Health Insurance Have More Access to Care

More Young People Get Physicals and Have Doctors When Laws Expand Parents' Insurance to Older Children
By Cari Nierenberg
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Feb. 14, 2012 -- Allowing children to stay on their parents' health insurance past the age of 18 increased young adults' chances of having a physical exam and made them less likely to go without care due to cost, according to a new study.

To understand how the new Affordable Care Act may influence young adults’ use of health services, researchers compared health data from states that had laws enacted in 2005 or 2006, allowing young people to join their parents' policies, to states without them.

In the study, young adults had improved access to medical care in states with laws that let parents put them on their health policies compared to states where young people were not eligible for this extended coverage.

In 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act made it mandatory for health insurance companies to make young adults up to age 26 eligible to be covered under their parents’ policies. Before this went into effect, 34 U.S. states had similar laws, but the upper age limit and other eligibility criteria varied.

Prior to the new law, young adults between 19 and 29 represented a large proportion -- nearly 30% -- of adults under 65 who went without health insurance coverage. That's often because they weren't allowed to continue on their parents’ premiums or didn't have jobs that offered them employer-based plans.

Better Access to Care

The study, published online in the journal Pediatrics, looked at CDC data from more than 2,300 young adults aged 19 to 23 before state laws went into effect. They compared this information to data taken in 2008 and 2009 from nearly 3,500 young adults living in states that had extended eligibility, and also to more than 17,000 young people in states without these policies. 

States with extended eligibility had slightly higher rates of young people with health insurance coverage, as well as slightly more young people who had a primary doctor, compared to states lacking these laws.

The biggest improvements in states with expanded policies were a nearly 5% gain in young people who had a recent physical exam and a nearly 4% drop in those who would have done without medical care because of cost.

"These research findings will inform our understanding of what to expect from the federal health reform provision that allows those up to age 26 to join their parents' policy," researcher Alex Blum, MD, MPH, says in a news release. He is an adjunct assistant professor of health evidence and policy at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

"Our results predict that many more young people will have a personal doctor and regular checkups, and no longer have to go without care due to cost," Blum says.

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