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Friday, October 28, 2016

By Noam N. Levey, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Expanding the number of young adults with health insurance appears to have improved their health and saved them money, according to a new study that is among the first to measure the effect of the health care law that President Barack Obama signed four years ago.

Starting in 2010, the Affordable Care Act allowed adults under age 26 to remain on their parents’ health plans, the first coverage expansion to take effect under the law.

Previous surveys have indicated that this provision, which remains among the law’s most popular, allowed millions of young adults to get health insurance over the last several years.

The new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests the coverage expansion also measurably increased the number of young adults who reported that they are in excellent physical and mental health.

Researchers also found a significant drop in how much young people were paying out of pocket for their medical care after the law went into effect.

“The health insurance that people are gaining seems to be doing what it is supposed to do,” said Dr. Kao-Ping Chua, a pediatrician at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and the lead author of the study.

The question of whether giving people insurance makes them healthier, in addition to protecting them against financial risk, has remained controversial as debate over the federal health law rages. The new research from Harvard University adds to growing evidence about the positive effects of insurance.

Last month, a study of Massachusetts’ trail-blazing 2006 health law found a decline in mortality rates after the state began guaranteeing health insurance. That study’s lead author, Dr. Benjamin Sommers, also co-authored the new paper.

In the study of young adults, researchers used survey data from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to compare the experiences of young adults, ages 19 to 25, who were eligible for coverage under the law, to those 26 to 34, who were not. The study covered the eight years before passage of the health law and one year after.

Insurance coverage increased markedly among the young adults, while declining slightly among the older group.

At the same time, young adults’ annual out-of-pocket medical expenses, including copays and deductibles, declined from an average of $546.11 in the period before the health law to $490 in 2011.

By contrast, annual out-of-pocket medical costs for the older group increased from an average of $626.66 to $644.82.

Younger adults also reported feeling better, with nearly 31 percent reporting themselves in excellent physical health after passage of the law, compared to nearly 27 percent giving that rating before.

The older group experienced a decline in self-reported health, with 21 percent reporting excellent physical health after passage of the law, compared 23 percent before.

How insurance may have contributed to the apparent health improvements remains unclear. The researchers did not detect any meaningful increase in the use of health care services among young adults after 2010. Their use of primary care remained constant, while it declined among the older group in 2011.

Chua speculated that the additional protections from having health coverage may contribute to a greater sense of security and health, a phenomenon that other research on coverage expansions has detected.

Tracking the young adult population over more years after they gained coverage may further explain the health effects of insurance.

Photo: LeDawna’s Pics via Flickr

  • John Hayes

    Most were likely healthy to begin with

  • VoiceofReason613

    Very important to spread sucky positive messages about Obamacare. Also important to stress that we previously had a very dysfunctional medical system with tens of millions of uninsured people and that Obamacare is based on Republican proposals.

    • Allan Richardson

      Still better than the status quo ante, which Republicans TODAY want to return to. It’s easier to improve something that exists than to invent the absolute perfect something when political wisdom is against having any system at all.

  • Allan Richardson

    Most young people are healthy, but there are two big threats to them: injury from accidents, and undiagnosed life threatening conditions. Usually, if a person of any age without insurance has an accident, or a sudden attack of an undiagnosed illness, that person can be treated in an ER (at much greater cost, of course, which WE will pay if the patient cannot afford to pay), and MAY survive. Insurance may or not make much difference for the accident, but if an undiagnosed disease caused the ER visit, it may be too late to save the patient this time, OR it may be possible to save the patient now, but too late to stop the progression of the disease, OR stopping the disease progression may be too expensive for the patient to pay out of pocket, so the patient WILL DIE ANYWAY, even if life saving care is possible (THERE’S your “death panel” and “rationing,” Tea Party).

    Having insurance means the patient has the financial means to have regular physical exams and screening (e.g. breast or prostate cancer, blood sugar, blood pressure, heart stress tests), AND the means to do whatever is medically POSSIBLE to stop diseases before it is too late.

    I just saw a documentary in which a roller coaster ride 12 years ago gave a teenage girl an unintentional treatment that kept her brain alive despite an undiagnosed brain tumor (through g-forces) so that she was able to go to the ER three days later and have immediate surgery to remove the tumor. She was featured as a young adult going on a ride with the designer of the roller coaster, totally healthy. We never know if there is a brain tumor, aneurism, or other health problem that may kill us, so having the means to get regular checkups could save lives.

    • Dominick Vila

      It may be a decade before we find out the effects of affordable healthcare and access to preventive medicine to our dismal life expectancy, but intuitively, they should be positive.

  • charles king

    Young American’s you better start doing some (Critical Thinking) about What? the hell is going on in America with our Congress and Senate Who? seem to have a problem with getting things done pertaning to the welfare of our country. I am an old Korean Veteran and I have been trying to get a (forgiveness loan of $6880 from a school loan I had back in the 1980’s and they have taken out of my Social Security over $10,000 and still take it out of my SS since 2006) It was the Republicans back in 2003 that started this S***. I fought my war and paid my taxes thinking I was protecting my Democracy but I find out I was protecting Greedy Capitalistic Pigs, Plutocracts (Commissioners),Do-Nothingers Republicans and Democracts Etcs. Where? is your Democracy. Re-check How? and by Who? is running your country. I am (85yrs young) I was an All-American kid from Johnstown, Pennsylvania and I thought Democracy was What? America was all about, I just found out in the last two years that America is govern by a bunch of White guys and others with MONIES is in charge. The VOTE is still Supreme so I suggest you gt busy and find out What? the hel is going on in YOUR Country. Thank You are the magic words in my book. I Love Ya All. Mr. C. E. KING