Study: Insurance Doesn’t Keep Young Adults From Higher Costs, ER Visits

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Buying health insurance doesn’t really change what young adults spend out-of-pocket on health care over the course of a year, Kaiser Health News reports.

A Journal of Adolescent Health analysis of 2009 federal data on patient spending found that young adults who were insured at least part of the year had higher emergency room costs than those who were uninsured the entire year.

Kaiser Health News noted that because the study looked only at records from 2009, it doesn’t factor in that young adults can still stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26 and can now receive subsidies for their insurance costs.

But not only are insurance companies charging even higher rates to adults who continue to use their parents’ health insurance, premiums for young adults are rising dramatically under the new health care law — by design.

The proportion of young adults in Obamacare exchanges has been so controversial because youths, who are healthier and less likely to need costly medical care, are needed to pay higher premiums to contribute to older and sicker exchange customers.

But with young adults paying more for being insured before Obamacare, they’re even less likely to want to purchase health insurance now that the health care law has pushed up young adults’ premiums disproportionately.

The results are not all that surprising. A January study from Washington think tank the American Action Forum found that according to federal data from 2011, when some but not all health care law reforms were active, six out of seven young adults actually spent less on health care when they went uninsured. (RELATED: Study: Staying uninsured cheaper than Obamacare for young)

Even when the individual mandate tax penalty rises dramatically over the next several years, the proportion of young adults benefiting from going uninsured will decrease only  slightly to 71 percent in 2015 and 62 in 2014.

The lead author of the Journal of Adolescent Health report, Dr. Josephine Lau, said that Obamacare reforms that ban co-payments for preventive and wellness services may provide an incentive for young adults, but the addition of higher premiums may continue to keep young adults away from the insurance market.

Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at Kaiser Family Foundation, admitted that insurance can drive up out-of-pocket costs.

“When you give an uninsured person insurance, they have better protection but their out-of-pocket costs may go up because they’re able to use more services,” Levitt told KHN.

For young adults, that can be an especially raw deal. The health care law has been a financial detriment for healthy people who use little to no health care services, driving up out-of-pocket costs for simple doctor visits or procedures while adding costly monthly premiums.

The Obama administration’s latest data on the health care law’s exchanges showed that just 28 percent of sign-ups were between the ages of 18 and 34, while officials estimated the exchanges would require at least 39 percent to offset old and unhealthy patients in order to remain afloat without premium  hikes. It remains to be seen whether young adults will pay their premiums at the same rate as other age groups.

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