Got Health Insurance? It May Depend on Your Age

Whether Americans had health insurance before Obamacare had a lot to do with when they were born. This chart from the Census Bureau’s new report on health coverage shows the rate at which Americans of different ages were uninsured in 2013:

Source: U.S. Census

Between 5 percent and 10 percent of kids have no health insurance. That rate jumps when people turn 19, and it climbs into their 20s—young adults who may be unemployed or in less-stable jobs that don’t provide coverage. Those folk are also less likely to be married to partners who have employment-based coverage. People in their 20s are also less likely to need medical care, and the cost is proportionately more of their income at an early stage of their careers, so many may skip it.

The uninsured rate declines slowly among older age groups, but even Americans in their 50s and early 60s remain without health insurance more often than those under 18. When they turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare, insurance coverage increases dramatically; Medicare-eligible adults have the highest coverage rates of any age group. That also means government programs pick up health-care bills in the last decades of life, when medical needs are greatest.

The Affordable Care Act aims to change this picture in a couple of ways. Adults can stay on their parents’ health plans through age 26 (if their parents have coverage). Working-age adults get incentives to purchase coverage (in the form of subsidies to buy health plans and penalties for going uninsured). In states that are expanding Medicaid, low-income adults will be eligible for the program, which previously was often limited to poor families. And private insurers are restricted from charging older people more than three times the premiums for younger people—a restriction intended to make insurance more affordable for people approaching Medicare age.

Early analysis shows that Americans 18 to 34 recorded the greatest gains in insurance coverage during the first year of Obamacare enrollment. It will be another year before we get a full measure from the Census Bureau of the ACA’s changes. If the law works as intended, the chart above should look much flatter in the years ahead.

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