Young Adults and ER Costs

New research finds that young adults are being shielded from ER costs because of PPACA. (Jason Redmond/Associated Press/file)

A popular and key aspect of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that allows young adults up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ health coverage has “shielded them, their families and hospitals from the full financial consequences of serious medical emergencies,” according to new research.

A new RAND Corporation study found that $147 million in medical care service in hospital emergency departments was newly covered by private insurance during a one-year period. Without the new regulation, those costs would have been paid by young people and their families, or been written off by hospitals as uncompensated care, researchers said.

The study, published in the May 30 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, estimated that more than 22,000 “nondiscretionary emergency room visits” during 2011 involved young adults who were newly insured under the provision. The change increased health insurance rates by 3 percent among the young adults needing care in emergency departments nationwide during the period.

The under-26 provision was one of the first PPACA provisions to go into effect, when it did in September 2010. And despite the law in its entirety struggling with popularity nationwide, that provision has remained one of the most popular parts of the law since its inception. It has expanded coverage to about 3 million young adults.

For the study, researchers examined emergency care provided to adults age 19 to 31 at nearly 400 hospitals from January 2008 through the end of 2011. Researchers analyzed emergency cases that involved serious illness or injury that would lead patients to an emergency room whether or not they had insurance.

“The change allowing young people to remain on their parents’ medical insurance is protecting young adults and their families from the significant financial risk posed by emergency medical care,” said Andrew Mulcahy, the paper’s lead author and a health policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research group.

Mulcahy also said hospitals are benefiting from the provision, too, because they’re treating fewer uninsured young people for emergency ailments.

“Because we looked at only the most-serious emergency cases to rule out the influence of insurance on the decision to seek health care, we probably underestimate the full financial benefits that the new rules have provided to young adults who need urgent medical care,” Mulcahy said.

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