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The number of Americans without health insurance fell for the first time since 2007, as many younger than age 26 took advantage of a new law allowing them to stay on their parents’ plans.
About 540,000 more young people were insured in 2011, helping reduce the proportion of uninsured people to 15.7 percent, the Census Bureau said last week in a report. About 48.6 million people were uninsured last year, compared with 49.9 million in 2010, the largest numerical drop since at least 1999, according to Census data.
The proportion of uncovered U.S. residents ages 19 to 25 improved to 27.7 percent, a 2.1 percentage point decline from a year earlier. President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law lets parents keep their children on their insurance plans until they turn 26.
“I don’t think people were expecting the young-adults provision to have such a noticeable effect,” said Tom Buchmueller, a professor of risk management and insurance at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business in Ann Arbor. “Clearly, there’s been a lot of take-up and it’s met a real need, because we know in today’s job market kids are leaving college without a lot of great options.”
The proportion of people in the country without insurance has risen since the turn of the century, a major impetus for Obama’s effort to overhaul the health system. There were 44.8 million people, or 14.9 percent of the population, without insurance in 2008, at the end of President George W. Bush’s term, and 36.6 million, or 13.1 percent, uninsured in 2000, at the end of President Bill Clinton’s administration, according to Census data.
The health law, called the Affordable Care Act, will expand Medicaid, the state-run program for the poor, and open new government-run insurance exchanges that may expand coverage to about 30 million people starting in 2014.
Obama’s administration had estimated that 3.1 million people who would otherwise lack insurance this year took advantage of the health law to join their parents’ coverage.
The Census data showing increased coverage of young adults “is a clear signal that the Affordable Care Act is working,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a nonprofit consumer-advocacy group in Washington that supports the law.