Even low cost health insurance plans online have been out of reach for many younger Americans seeking to join the depressed job market with entry-level wages and high student loan debt. The provision of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that allows children to remain on their parents’ health policies up to age 26 has extended insurance coverage to 2.5 million young people who otherwise would have been unprotected, but that benefit could disappear.
Young Americans Chronically Uninsured
In March 2012 the unemployment rate for the 16 to 24 age bracket was 16.4 percent, or almost double the national average. Of those young people who do have a job, fewer than a quarter have health insurance as a benefit of their employment. The protection extended to these Americans by the Affordable Care Act does not consider either educational or marital status. If, however, the adult child marries, the spouse cannot be added to the coverage.
If the Supreme Court rules the health care reform law unconstitutional, however, the number of uninsured young adults could jump back to 13.7 million, or approximately one third of the total uninsured population of the U.S. Although estimates vary, there are currently between 41 and 50 million uninsured people nationwide.
Specifically, the justices are reviewing the individual mandate portion of the law, which would require all Americans to carry health insurance by 2014. The Court has the option, however, to strike down the law in its entirety. The full ramifications of such an action, while a “victory” for the conservative opposition, would strip health care coverage from millions of people, mainly the young, the very old, the working poor, and people with pre-existing conditions.
Health Care Seeks to Reshape American Treatment Model
The perception has been that insurance is not a necessity for younger Americans who are in the healthiest years of their lives. Medical debt, however, leads to more than 60 percent of all personal bankruptcy filings in the United States. Most people in this country live one major medical crisis away from complete financial ruin. For those with pre-existing conditions, the high cost of insurance dramatically affects their quality of life and the choices they can make.
Insuring younger Americans is vital in re-focusing the goals of health care in the nation. Currently the U.S. medical system is, for the most part reactive. If someone is sick or injured, they go to the doctor and get the required treatment. Major aspects of the health care reform law emphasize the preventive medicine model, which is much less costly to maintain and extends life expectancy.
In 2010, the average health insurance premium per person was $2,580. In 2011, premium rates jumped 8 to 9 percent, adding $232 or more on to existing rates. For young people in entry level positions, those rates, along with living expenses and potentially high student loan debt, are impossible to meet. Consequently, young adults tend to go without health insurance, which allows their health to deteriorate further by middle age than would be necessary were preventive care a viable and affordable option.
This is a guest posting by Sara Mackey