Does Health Care Law Show That Millennials Are Not Invincible?

During the debate on health care that preceded the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), one of the most-discussed topics was the heath care coverage status of young Americans. At the time, young people had the highest uninsurance rate of any age group: According to the CPS data Demos and Young Invincibles used for our State of Young America report, the uninsurance rate for 18-24 year-olds was over 30% in 2009, while the rate for adults 35 and older was less than half of that, at 13%. One of the popular explanations for young adults’ much higher uninsurance rate was that young people felt “invincible” and thus chose to be uninsured, believing they did not need health insurance because they were young and healthy.

However, events since the passage of the ACA seemingly contradict that narrative. Since the provision of the ACA allowing young people to remain on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26 (three years longer than they could before its passage) took effect in September 2010, over 2.5 million more young adults now have insurance than did nearly a year and half ago, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. This is in contrast to a decline in the percentage of slightly older young adults (ages 26-35) with insurance.
 
So, what caused this dramatic rise in the health insurance coverage rate of 18-25 year-olds? One explanation is that young people don’t in fact feel invincible, that they do want health insurance, and that some other factor, such as price or unavailability, was the primary reason they were uninsured. An alternative explanation, however, could be that young people didn’t really want insurance all that much, but pressure from their parents to get coverage combined with the relatively low cost of keeping young people on their parents’ plans was the driver behind the drop in their uninsurance rates since the dependent care coverage provision of the ACA took effect.