Young and Susceptible: The Health Vulnerability of Young America

Catherine Ruetschlin
December 1, 2011

At a time when support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has hit its lowest point ever, young America is still looking for health care solutions. 

According to the recent poll by Demos and the Young Invincibles of young adults, 68 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds are worried about being able to afford health care and 36 percent rank it a ‘10’ on a 10-point scale of worry.  Moreover, 82 percent of this population identifies protecting health care services for low-income people as a policy priority, with 65 percent placing it at the top of priorities for Congress.  (Although it should be noted that young Americans are lukewarm toward Obama's Affordable Care Act, along with the rest of the public.)

It makes sense that young adults would be fretting about health care. This is a huge challenge for them. Young people who leave their familial homes, relocate, change jobs, or work temporary or part-time positions confront shifting options for health care coverage and increased insurance insecurity. They are also more vulnerable to the fluctuations of an uncertain economy.  With the highest unemployment rates of the entire U.S. population, little access to workplace sick leave, and a majority describing their current financial situation as just fair or poor, young people may be one illness, accident, or injury away from a loss of income or employment, protracted infirmity, or a lifetime of debt.

Many young people have already experienced the financial hardship that can come from not having health insurance, or having bad insurance. Among young people who saw their debt increase in the last four years, 27 percent cited medical bills as a source of increased debt -- just behind credit cards. 

The Affordable Care Act directly addresses this insecurity for those under age 26 by increasing insurance options through parental coverage and the elimination of exclusions based on pre-existing conditions, as well as providing tax credits that make insurance more affordable. In the first three quarters since the introduction of the new provisions, the number of uninsured 18 to 24 year-olds fell by one million people. 

Today’s young people face an economic future already scarred by the lifelong effects of entering the labor market during a recession, and already encumbered with medical debts that impede their ability to make ends meet today. So while jobs may take center stage as the top priority for regaining America’s economic footing, young adults also see health care access as central to any conception of economic security.

This article was originally published on PolicyShop, the Demos web blog. It is reprinted here with permission.


Catherine Ruetschlin is a research analyst in the Economy Opportunity Program at Demos.



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