As an uninsured young person, I’m pretty into the Affordable Care Act (called the ACA or also, originally derisively but now fairly universally, Obamacare). In 2014, it will help me get access to actual, non-bank-breaking health benefits–something I haven’t had in years. But it’s already making a huge difference in the lives of millions of my peers who, according to a report out yesterday from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, are finally starting to get the coverage they need.
According to the report, more young people are uninsured than they were before the recession hit–there are over 46 million of us who are still entirely without a health care safety net–but that number has declined by over two million since last year. Just over a quarter of adults ages 19 to 25 are uninsured now, down from nearly 34% in 2011. Some have gotten on Medicaid or other government programs but, by and large, the bump comes from the ACA. As the New York Times put it, Obamacare is “the only plausible explanation.”
In spite of the fact that many Americans don’t support the idea of Obamacare–even though they do support the various components of it–many have already taken advantage of it. And one of the most popular, earliest-acting provisions was the one that allowed young people to stay on their parents health care plans until the age of 26. That provision alone has allowed those millions of recent college graduates, many of whom are facing high unemployment and crippling student loan debt, to avoid weighty hospital bills and high prescription costs.
Health care for young Americans isn’t just about injuries and birth control, either. Young people frequently lack access to affordable mental health care, which is essential to their productivity, wellbeing, and even survival. About 3.5% of Americans have been diagnosed with major depression, and nearly 10% feel depressed at some time. For those individuals, the ability to find a therapist or other mental health specialist can be the difference between life and death–and is almost always contingent on having health care.
But the ACA doesn’t cover or help everyone. Those whose parents are also uninsured (about 15% of the population of the U.S. is without health care, according to the CBPP report), or who couldn’t afford to keep covering their 26-year-olds (Obamacare doesn’t make it free to cover your kids–it just makes it possible) aren’t receiving much help yet.
Additionally, there are still problems which keep young people from buying their own health care. Issues like gender rating, which is when women pay more than men, are pricing young women out of health care. When Obamacare takes effect in full in 2014, that’s going away.
Still, this increase of insured young people has a big impact, both on the wellbeing of America’s young workforce, and on the economy. Uninsured young people seeking care are likely to use crowded, expensive emergency rooms to get it (because without health care, it’s difficult to find even a primary care physician or private hospital who will take you on as a patient)–a service that tax payers and the insured end up paying for.
Many Americans may still believe that they don’t like the sound of Obamacare–but from these numbers, it’s clear that plenty of parents and young adults seem to have no problem taking advantage of it.
Image: Alexander Raths via Shutterstock