Young adults were among the most likely to be uninsured prior to the Affordable Care Act, but the law’s Medicaid expansion had a significant impact on those rates, according to a new study.
Research published by Urban Institute, this week shows the uninsured rate for people aged 19 to 25 declined from 30% to 16% between 2011 and 2018, while Medicaid enrollment for this population increased from 11% to 15% in that window.
The coverage increases were felt most keenly between 2013 and 2016, when many of the ACA’s key tenets were carried out, including Medicaid expansion and the launch of the exchanges, according to the study.
“Before the ACA, adolescents in low-income households often aged out of eligibility for public health insurance coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program as they entered adulthood,” the researchers wrote. “Further, young adults’ employment patterns made them less likely than older adults to have an offer of employer-sponsored insurance coverage.”
States that expanded Medicaid saw greater declines in the number of young people without insurance, the study found.
On average, the uninsured rates among young people declined from nearly 28% in 2011 to 11% in 2018, according to the analysis. In non-expansion states, however, the uninsured rate decreased from about 33% to nearly 21%.
In expansion states, Medicaid enrollment for people aged 19 to 25 rose from 12% in 2011 to close to 21%, according to the study, while enrollment in non-expansion states remained flat.
Urban’s researchers estimate that Medicaid expansion is linked to a 3.6 percent point decline in uninsurance among young people overall, and had the highest impact on young Hispanic people. Uninsurance decreased by 6 percentage points among Hispanic young people, the study found, and that population had the largest uninsured rate prior to the ACA.
“The effects of Medicaid expansion on young adults’ health insurance coverage and health care access provide evidence of the initial pathways through which Medicaid expansions could improve young adults’ overall health and trajectories of health throughout adulthood,” the researchers wrote.
“Beyond coverage and access to preventive care, Medicaid expansion may affect young adults’ health care use in ways not examined in our report. Thus, ensuring young adults have health insurance coverage and access to affordable care is a critical first step toward long-term health,” they wrote.