U.S. healthcare law tied to benefits for young adults

NEW YORK Tue Jun 17, 2014 4:28pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Young adults were more likely to report better physical and mental health after the U.S. passed sweeping changes to its healthcare system in 2010, according to a new study.

Young people also spent less money after they were allowed to be covered under their parents’ health insurance plans until they turned 26 years old under the Affordable Care Act - better known as Obamacare, the researchers report.

“I think our study suggests it improved health and reduced exposure to healthcare costs,” Dr. Kao-Ping Chua said. “I think the larger question of cost versus benefit requires further study, but there do appear to have been significant benefits.”

Chua is the study’s lead author and a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.

He and his colleague Dr. Benjamin Sommers write in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, that the effect expanding insurance access to young Americans had on healthcare spending, use and overall health was unknown.

“The reality is that when policies come out it takes about one to two years for national surveys to collect data on the post policy years,” Chua said. “So right now is when data from 2011 and 2012 are coming out.”

They analyzed data collected between 2002 and 2011 in annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and compared results for 26,453 people between the ages of 19 and 25 years old to those for 34,052 people between the ages of 26 and 34.

Before the healthcare law was implemented, about 63 percent of the younger group and about 73 percent of the older group were covered by health insurance. Insurance coverage increased to about 69 percent after the law’s implementation in the younger group, but didn’t change significantly for the older group.

About 27 percent of the younger group reported excellent physical health before the policy change and that increased to about 31 percent after the law’s implementation. There was also an increase in the percentage reporting excellent mental health.

For the older age group, however, the percentage reporting excellent physical or mental health dropped slightly between the two time periods.

The researchers also found that yearly out-of-pocket healthcare costs declined by about 18 percent for the younger group compared to the older group.

“I think our study suggests there was an improvement in self-reported physical and mental health as well as a decrease in out-of-pocket medical expenditures,” Chua said.

He added that they did not see an increase in how much healthcare people were using from before the policy was implemented, but more time may be needed to see a trend like that.

“Utilization may not have picked up in year one of the provision but as people get used to the idea of having insurance they may start using it more,” he said.

Also, because they only had data on a brief amount of time after the policy was implemented, Chua said additional research will be needed to confirm these findings.

“I think that will be an active area in future research,” he said.

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