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Affordable Care Act Now Serving 6.6 Million Young Americans

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A Richmond native, Liz Bartenstein had been burned badly during an accident shortly after she graduated college, and racked up tens of thousands of dollars in emergency room bills. At the time, she was too old to be insured under her parents’ plan (a few months before passage of the Affordable Care Act), and did not qualify to be insured by her employer – a small nonprofit at the time.

CREDIT: Flickr / Leader Nancy Pelosi

More than 6 million young Americans are now covered under their parents’ health insurance plans thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

Prior to the legislation’s passage, health insurance companies could remove children enrolled in a family coverage plan as early as age 19. Now, thanks to an important provision in the ACA, insurers are required to make coverage available to dependents until the age of 26.

Just a year and a half since Congress passed the act, Americans are beginning to see the extent to which this provision is helping keep young adults covered and aiding millions of families across the country.

A recent report by the Commonwealth Fund indicates that, in 2011, 13.7 million young Americans (19-25) were able to remain on or join their parents’ health plans. According to the study, 6.6 million of those “would likely not have been able to do so before” the ACA.

This new data reinforces statements made by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan last month in a letter to various university presidents and student organizations.

“Now, graduating students are free to make career choices based on what they want to do,” they noted, “not where they can get health insurance.”

The latest figures represent a steep increase from the 2.5 million young adults who were reportedly taking advantage of this provision just six months ago. This spike in coverage among young adults is a strong indicator that, despite public perception of their “invincibility,” young people also need health care coverage.

But there are still millions who have been left in a dearth of non-coverage.

“While the Affordable Care Act has already provided a new source of coverage for millions of young adults at risk of being uninsured, more help is needed for those left behind,” Commonwealth Fund Vice President Sara Collins said.

Those left behind include 39 percent of young adults aged 19 to 29 who went without health insurance at some point in 2011 and the 36 percent who struggle to pay for medical treatments or are slipping further into medical debt. One of the Affordable Care Act’s major insurance provisions—to expand Medicaid and subsidize private plans—will take effect in 2014 and help many uninsured young adults. This provision, as Collins noted in the report, “will provide nearly all young adults across the income spectrum with affordable and comprehensive health plans.”

Since its passage, young adults have been more likely to support the ACA than other age groups. Forty-two percent of those 18 to 29 said they would be against repealing the act, compared with only 28 percent who argued in favor of repeal, according to a poll conducted by the Washington Post in May.

The 42 percent approval rating represents the second highest among the age groups polled, second only to seniors 65 and older. Unfortunately, a poll by the Kaiser Foundation conducted in March suggests that only 47 percent of all Americans—and 55 percent of those under age 30—are even aware of how the law has helped young Americans stay under their parents’ plans.

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