Young people the biggest losers in health care reform?

The Wall Street Journal recently published an opinion piece in which John Fund predicted that young people would be among the biggest losers if health care reform passes (“Health Reform’s Hidden Victims,” July 24, 2009).  While Rock the Vote applauds Mr. Fund’s concern for young Americans, he misses the point.  Young people have the most to lose from the failure of health care reform.  Here are the facts:

  • We are uninsured. Americans between ages 18 and 29 are the most uninsured age group in the country.  More than 30 million young adults between the ages of 19 and 34 (46.8 percent) went without health insurance at some point during 2007-2008. This same age group represents over one-third (34.7 percent) of the entire uninsured population.[1]

  • We work. 56 percent of uninsured young adults ages 19 to 29 are full-time workers.[2]

  • We face age-discrimination. Young adult workers are half as likely to be covered by their employer as older workers (35 percent versus 62 percent).[3]

  • We can’t afford coverage.  Young people are forced to decide between our physical health and our financial health. Two-thirds of uninsured young adults between the ages of 19 and 29 went without necessary care because of costs in 2007.[4]

Mr. Fund believes young people will face higher costs if reform passes and cites as evidence proposals that would limit insurance companies to a 2-to-1 ratio on age-based health care premiums – that is, insurance companies would only be able to charge older people double what they charge younger people for the same coverage.  While the 2-to-1 ratio is designed to keep costs down for older people, Mr. Fund believes that will come at the expense of young people.

He ignores two critical facts.  First, under proposals currently being considered in Congress, coverage would be made more affordable because premiums for young people would be based on their income levels. Second, premium increases would addressed by the government in the form of credits.  As such, young people’s costs will remain low because of income-based premiums and subsidies to make up cost differences – not because insurance companies have free rein to discriminate against older people.

Young people – who voted in record numbers in 2008 and are the fastest growing and most diverse portion of the electorate – support health care reform that (1) provides for affordable, comprehensive coverage through the workplace and (2) allows those who don’t get coverage at work to get affordable health coverage that is based on their income.


[1] The Lewin Group / Families USA

[2] Karyn Schwartz and Tanya Schwartz, Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, “Uninsured Adults, A Profile and Overview of Coverage Options,” June 2008

[3] J. L. Kriss, S. R. Collins, B. Mahato, E. Gould, and C. Schoen, “Rite of Passage? Why Young Adults Become Uninsured and How New Policies Can Help” (2008 Update), The Commonwealth Fund, May 2008

[4] Ibid.