A new Health Affairs Web First study finds that the provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) permitting young adults to remain on their parents’ health insurance plans up to the age of 26 has led to significant increases in coverage for people ages 19–25. Although historically, Americans in their early 20s had the lowest rate of insurance coverage of any age group (68.1 percent in the five years before the ACA), the study reports that by the third quarter of 2011, a year after this provision was enacted, an additional 7.6 percent gained coverage.

According to the study, released yesterday, the increases in coverage were apparent across all racial and ethnic groups and for both working and nonworking adults. However, men, unmarried adults, nonstudents, and those with worse health statuses were most likely to have gained coverage. This increase in coverage made it easier for young adults to afford needed medical care, with a significant reduction in the number of 19–25 year olds who delayed or did not get care because of cost.

This study, which will also appear in the January issue of Health Affairs, is believed to be the first to demonstrate that the provision has resulted in increased access to care among young adults. Study authors include Benjamin Sommers, Thomas Buchmueller, Sandra Decker, Colleen Carey, and Richard Kronick. Sommers and Kronick are in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the US Department of Health and Human Services; Buchmueller teaches at the University of Michigan’s school of business; Decker is affiliated with the National Center for Health Statistics; and Carey is a doctoral candidate in economics at the Johns Hopkins University. You can read others discussions of the study here and here.

The authors used data from two nationally representative surveys: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey and the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. Previous research shows that health insurance increases access to care, which ultimately may lead to reduced morbidity and mortality. Sommers and coauthors note, “Our study found that the coverage gains under the Affordable Care Act were indeed associated with significant reductions in barriers to care for this age group.”