American Medical News
By Jonathan Bilyk amednews correspondent — Posted July 8, 2013
As the onset nears of the Affordable Care Act’s provision requiring everyone to purchase health insurance or pay a fine, a new survey shows that young Americans may welcome the chance to obtain coverage almost as readily as their parents and grandparents.
The results indicate that more young adults could be headed to physicians’ offices for medical care, if trends seen among those obtaining coverage through their parents’ health insurance translate into the broader market, the opinion surveyors said.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that its June Health Tracking Poll, which interviewed about 1,500 adults, found that 77% of adults 18 to 25 said having health insurance was “very important.”
Additionally, 76% of respondents in that age group told pollsters that health insurance is “something I need” and “insurance is worth the money it costs.”
Among adults 26 to 30, 71% said insurance was very important, and 74% said they believed insurance was something they needed. But only 65% of respondents in that age group said insurance was worth the cost. Only adults 25 and younger were included in an ACA provision that allowed them to stay on their parents’ health insurance plan.
About a quarter of the respondents ages 18 to 30 said they believed they were healthy enough to forgo health insurance coverage.
Young adults did not value health insurance quite as highly as respondents in older age groups. But the results did not differ as much as some may have believed, said Mollyann Brodie, director of public opinion and survey research at Kaiser.
The Kaiser Foundation poll indicated that 87% of respondents in all age groups believed having health insurance was very important, and 88% said insurance was necessary. Only 68% of respondents in all age groups said insurance was worth the cost.
“Often, we tend to hear younger people described in terms of being ‘young invincibles,’ believing that they are healthy enough and young enough to not yet need health insurance,” Brodie said. “We’re seeing that this is not necessarily true.”
Brodie said she was particularly intrigued by the number of young adults who told surveyors that they were concerned about paying for catastrophic medical bills. The survey found that 65% of respondents ages 18 to 25 and 68% of respondents 26 to 30 were “worried” about “not being able to pay medical bills in the event of a serious illness or accident.” That was similar to the 67% of respondents 31 to 64 who said they were worried about such an event.
Young adults were less concerned about their ability to pay for “routine health care services,” as about 45% of respondents 18 to 30 said they worried about having health insurance for such a purpose. That compared with 52% of respondents ages 31 to 64 who were concerned about paying routine medical bills.
Brodie said the June tracking poll marked the first time the Kaiser Foundation asked such age-specific questions about the importance of health insurance.
She said Kaiser and others will watch closely in coming months to see how the survey can be used to predict actual behavior among young adults as the insurance mandate provisions of the ACA take effect in early 2014.
She said at this point, observers like the Kaiser Foundation “can only speculate” on ultimate consumer behavior among young adults. But she indicated that reaction by young adults to a different provision of the ACA could offer clues to what may be coming.
In 2010, the ACA required health insurers to allow dependent children to remain on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26. Since then, a study published in the December 2012 issue of Health Affairs credited the provision with extending coverage to at least 3 million young adults, with coverage gains the greatest among those with the worst health problems.
Meanwhile, an April study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute indicated that after enactment of the mandate, young adults who had recently obtained coverage under the so-called adult-dependent mandate spent 15% more on average than a comparison group that was not covered.
“This kind of behavior gives us the sense that there is a different perspective among young people than the conventional story line might indicate,” Brodie said.
Still other studies have indicated that young people not covered by their parents’ plans should not necessarily fear as big a sticker shock when they enter the health insurance market in 2014 as some have predicted.
A report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute earlier in 2013 noted that concerns about young adults facing high out-of-pocket costs may be overstated. They said young people would not pay more for health insurance under the ACA’s new age rating bands than under current rules.