News Column

Health Coverage Surges Among Young

Sept. 14, 2011

Chris Carroll


Half a million more young Americans signed up for health insurance between 2009 and 2010, leading high-ranking Democrats to conclude that President Obama's health-care reform bill is working.

Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 were the only ones to experience a significant increase in health insurance coverage in that time, according to figures issued Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The coverage rate jumped from 70.7 percent to 72.8 percent between 2009 and 2010, translating to about 500,000 newly insured young adults, the bureau said.

"We expect even more will gain coverage in 2011 when the policy is fully phased in," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote in a blog post.

Part of the president's Affordable Care Act allows young adults to be on their parents' plan until age 26. The policy took effect for insurance renewals beginning on Sept. 23, 2010.

In her blog post, Sebelius described young adults as a high-risk group that believes itself to be "invincible."

Lauren Childers, a 22-year-old Covenant College graduate, said that isn't true, at least in her case. A car accident she experienced this summer gave her the wake-up call she needed, and it reinforced the need to nail down insurance through her parents.

"The accident clearly reminded me of how much I am not invincible," she said.

What also may not be invincible is Obama's overall health care reform plan, including the provision for young adults.

Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives -- including Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Scott DesJarlais, both Tennessee Republicans -- voted to repeal what's often called "Obamacare" in conservative circles.

The measure did not pass in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but with Republican presidential primary fever sweeping the nation, GOP legislators say anything is possible.

"This single provision certainly doesn't even come close to justifying all of the bad" within the health care law, said Robert Jameson, press secretary for DesJarlais.

Jameson said his boss would find ways to insure young adults, potentially using Obama's policy as a blueprint.

Health coverage was stable or decreased in all other age brackets, so the increase "almost certainly reflects the effects of the extension of dependent coverage to age 26," according to the report, which did not tabulate insurance policies gained through employment for the age group.

Several young adults interviewed Tuesday said that's probably because employment statistics for their age group would reflect dismally on the president's job-creation record.

Keaton Hughes considers himself an exception to the rule as a 23-year-old honors graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga who has landed something while he decides what to do next.

So far his biology degree has yielded a full-time handyman-and-runner job for a local attorney, a job without health benefits. Because of that, he said, he's grateful to the president for giving him the option to stay covered on his parents' private plan.

"It gives me time to decide what I really want to do before I go back to grad school and get a career job with benefits," Hughes said.

Source: (c) 2011 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.)

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