Young adults between the ages of 19 and 29 are the fastest growing group of uninsured Americans. According to a recent study by the Commonwealth Fund, 13.3 million individuals in this age group were lacking coverage in 2005, making up almost 30 percent of the entire uninsured population.
Laurie Brubaker, head of Individual Markets for Aetna, said there are a number of reasons that young adults might go without health insurance.
"Many recent graduates are no longer on their parents' plans as dependents and either have a period of time when they are looking for a job or they find a job that doesn't immediately offer health benefits," Brubaker said. "There are also young people who have the opportunity for health insurance coverage but decline to take advantage because they assume that nothing will happen to them."
In addition, after finishing high school or college, most graduates have to juggle a number of different expenses and often times paying for health insurance is not at the top of that list, Brubaker said. A survey by Aetna and the Financial Planning Association (FPA) of more than 1,000 adults ages 18-24 found that 70 percent would rather contribute a portion of their monthly earnings to paying down credit card debt, building their savings accounts or contributing to their 401k.
With all of these competing financial interests, it might not be surprising that young adults frequently pass on health insurance, according to Brubaker, who added that it might seem unnecessary - until they need it.
The survey from Aetna and FPA found that of the uninsured young workers who recently had an accident, injury or illness that required medical attention, 91 percent wished they had been insured at the time of the incident.
"If a young adult breaks his or her leg and is uninsured, they are not only going to be dealing with the physical pain, they or their parents are also going to be hurting financially," Brubaker said. "For this group, health plans add a safety net to protect not only their health, but also their finances."
Even though the majority of Americans obtain their insurance through their employer, Brubaker said that an individual health insurance plan could be a less expensive option for young adults. Individual insurance plans are allowed to factor in the health of the person who is insured, which could result in a lower monthly premium for a healthy young adult.
While young adults are generally the healthiest portion of the population, there are advantages to having insurance coverage, aside from the financial protection it provides, Brubaker said.
In most cases, individual plans pay for preventive care like routine checkups, which she said is an important step in averting larger health-care expenses in the future. She added that in addition to the coverage provided, many plans offer a variety of discounts on amenities such as gym memberships, teeth-whitening procedures and vision-related services.
"We know that people in this age group want to look and feel their best, which is why they consistently rank dental and vision benefits as among their most important," Brubaker said.
In addition, because many young adults don't know the basics about health insurance, it is important for them to get educated before they think about purchasing a plan. Brubaker said that a good informational resource designed specifically for young adults is www.AllAboutTheBenefits.com, which focuses on topics such as bridging from their parents' or college's health plan to their own, making sense of health benefits options and translating insurance lingo.