Uninsured Young Adults: Are They Really Invincible?

What comes to mind when you think of the term "Young Invincible"?

You might picture a twenty-something, perhaps unemployed or underemployed. Maybe living in a parents' basement, consuming an above-average amount of Ramen noodles. This twenty-something chooses not to purchase health insurance, the thinking goes, because getting sick is not something he or she can even picture - a perceived invincibility.

Findings from the 2011 Colorado Health Access Survey (CHAS) suggest that last sentence isn't true for most young adults between the ages of 19 and 29 in Colorado. In fact, perceived "invincibility" is way down on the list of reasons that uninsured young adults lack coverage.

When asked why they were uninsured, young adults supplied some of the following reasons. Note that a perceived invincibility was mentioned by only about one in ten respondents:

  1. Cost is too high (mentioned by 77 percent of respondents)
  2. If working, not offered insurance or not eligible for insurance (50 percent)
  3. Insured family member lost job or changed employers (29 percent)
  4. Lost eligibility for Medicaid or CHP+ (24 percent)
  5. Do not know how to get health insurance (13 percent)
  6. Do not need health insurance (12 percent)

The latest CHAS issue brief, Young Invincibles? Why Young Adults Have Colorado's Highest Uninsured Rate, analyzes this finding and many others about health coverage for young adults. For example, in 2011 young adults had the highest uninsured rate (29 percent) of any age group in Colorado. This percentage is up significantly from 2008-09, when approximately 22 percent of Colorado young adults were uninsured. While young adults make up 16 percent of Colorado's population, they comprise 28 percent of Colorado's uninsured.

This lack of health insurance among young adults has important implications for their ability to access care. Nearly one-quarter of young adults reported not seeing a doctor due to cost, and nearly 20 percent reported not filling a prescription. The CHAS finds that only 70 percent of young adults in Colorado have a usual source of care, the lowest rate of any age group.

While the situation may seem bleak, the Affordable Care Act is likely to increase the number of Americans with health insurance. While all ages will be impacted by these provisions, young adults' high uninsured rate suggests that they may be one of the groups to benefit the most. Effective outreach and enrollment efforts will be crucial to ensure the success of these efforts.

Emily King is a research analyst at CHI.