Advancing Youth Enrollment Act would help 5.7 million uninsured young adults gain coverage

By Marlén Mendoza

A new bicameral bill would help more than 4 million young adults (ages 18 to 34) access affordable health care. By increasing subsidies and lowering premiums, the Advancing Youth Enrollment (AYE) Act would lower young people’s uninsurance rate and stabilize health insurance markets for all consumers.

The belief that youth and young adults don’t want or need as much access to health services because they are healthy is wrong. Young adults are not exempt from financial vulnerability; in fact, it's quite the opposite. Young adults, especially youth living in poverty, need health insurance for work coverage, preventive care and supports for mental health and substance use disorder treatment.

Since 2014, the ACA has reduced by half the number of uninsured young adults. With 34 states and the District of Columbia choosing to expand Medicaid, an additional 5.9 million young adults have gained access to health insurance. However, despite progress, more than 10.4 million young adults remain uninsured. Low-income people can get refundable tax credits to help cover the cost of health insurance through the ACA exchange market. However, even with tax credits, many still can’t afford it. That’s especially true for people with incomes between 100 percent and 138 percent of poverty in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid. Unlike their peers in expansion states, they’re not Medicaid-eligible. They have to buy insurance through the marketplace, which generally has higher out-of-pocket costs.

Non-expansion states are concentrated in the Southeast, where the uninsurance rate is 19 percent. That’s significantly higher than the Northeast (8 percent), Midwest (10 percent), and West (11 percent).  Importantly, uninsured young adults overwhelmingly reside in the south. Black and Latino young men have higher uninsurance rates than any other group (29 percent and 36 percent respectively). The AYE Act is a strong first step toward addressing these issues. The bill would decrease the amount of annual income people are expected to pay toward premiums (reducing their “affordability threshold” by 2.5 percent). As a result more than 9 million young Americans, including 5.7 million who are currently uninsured, would see their out of pocket costs for health insurance on the individual market drop.

The AYE Act has big implications for our young adult workforce. It’s hard to keep a job when you aren’t healthy. Affordable health care allows workers to seek medical attention to prevent falling ill or before their conditions worsen. It also prevents the severe stress and financial hardship that comes with expensive medical bills.

AYE is our chance to build on the ACA’s accomplishments, reach more young adults, and stabilize our health system with affordable plans and quality services. Members of Congress, especially those from non-expansion states, should support this legislation and reject the Trump Administration’s efforts to weaken the ACA.