The Affordable Care Act in Action

Amid the sea of downward sloping graphs marking the Great Recession, a small green shoot has begun to emerge. Recently released Census data show that the share of uninsured young adults between ages 18 and 24 remained essentially flat from 2009 to 2010 in spite of this population’s high rate of joblessness during the recession. The emerging trend points to the early success of a year-old provision in the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ health coverage up until age 26.

In California, 66.5 percent of young adults between age 18 and 24 had health coverage in 2009 compared to 66.4 percent in 2010 – a 0.1 percentage-point difference. In contrast, adults age 25 through 64 experienced a far larger decline in coverage. In 2009, 77.3 percent of this population had health coverage, compared with 76.3 percent in 2010, according to Census data. Other data have also begun to substantiate this trend. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the share of young adults between ages 19 and 25 with insurance increased by more than three percentage points in the first three months of 2011. A recent Gallup poll shows similar trends.

Young adults are of particular interest in the effort to broaden access to health coverage. In recent years, this population has represented the largest and fastest-growing segment of the US population without health coverage. Many factors influence the insurance rate of young adults as described in this report. At age 19, many lose coverage through Medicaid, other public programs, or their parents. In addition, young adults may be new employees in jobs where they are less likely to be eligible for, or offered, coverage. For much of the past decade, the CDC shows, the uninsurance rate among young adults has generally increased, peaking at 33.9 percent in 2010.

The ACA policy has been especially important in light of high unemployment among young adults during the Great Recession. More than one out of five Californians between 18 and 25 were unemployed in 2010 according to recent Census data, making it even less likely that they would have access to affordable health coverage. Allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ coverage as they venture into the world – and through tough economic times – will help to smooth a major transition in their lives.

–Hanh Kim Quach