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Health Care Reform is a Good Deal for Young People

This post also appeared on PolicyMic. 

Relying on a series of faulty assumptions and misconstrued statistics, my PolicyMic colleague Jacob Shmukler argues that health care reform hurts 20-somethings more than any other age group. In fact, the opposite is true. Young adults will benefit more than any other demographic from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because of a dramatic increase in their health insurance coverage.

Young people are the largest group of uninsured in the country –32 percent of us do not have coverage. Why is that? Shmukler cites the popular myth that healthy young adults forgo coverage for “financially rational” reasons. The reality could not be more different. Young people are not invincible, and they do not choose to be uninsured.

We use the emergency room more than any age group under age 75 and16 percent of us suffer from chronic conditions; we need preventive and primary care. Moreover, young women have specific health needs. That is why when comprehensive and affordable coverage is available through an employer, studies show we enroll at nearly the same rate as other age groups.

Despite our medical needs, young adults have limited access to common forms of coverage. If we are lucky enough to have jobs, they typically provide us with fewer benefits than older, more experienced workers. In fact, only 53 percent of young adults ages 19 to 29 have access to employer-sponsored insurance, compared to 76 percent of adults over 30.

That does not worry Shmukler, who takes comfort in the fact that young people have access to “cheap” individual insurance. Unfortunately, individual coverage is not cheap, and young people are generally a low-income population. About two-thirds of young adults make less than $40,000 a year. No wonder only 6 percent of them hold individual policies, while four times that amount go without coverage. Young people simply cannot afford expensive health insurance.

Shmukler also falsely claims that uninsured 20-somethings “simply require very little medical care,” or can avoid worse health outcomes by paying “out of pocket.” This is flawed on two fundamental levels. First, not having insurance can have negative health and financial consequences. More thanthree-quarters of uninsured young adults reported not seeking medical care because of high costs, and nearly one-third reported their health worsening. Second, 20-somethings’ low incomes mean serious financial troubles when forced to pay out of pocket for medical care, and medical bankruptcies affect our demographic at much higher rates than our older counterparts.

These sobering facts point to the same conclusion: the pre-ACA status quo was unhealthy for young adults and strained their already difficult financial circumstances. However, Shmukler maintains that because of the ACA, the cheap individual policies that 20-somethings currently have access to will largely disappear, forcing them to either join their parent’s plan or pay the penalty. This statement is far from reality; the options for young adults under ACA have, and will, expand greatly.

Young Invincibles is a national organization, representing the interests of 18 to 34 year-olds and making sure that our perspective is heard wherever decisions about our collective future are being made. In our next blog post, my colleague, Maya Brod, and I will further rebut Part II of Shmukler’s arguments by exploring the specifics as to why the affordable and accessible health coverage offered by the ACA is, in fact, a very good deal for us 20-somethings. Stay tuned.