Young Adults Value Health Insurance, Poll Finds


A strong majority of young adults, whose participation in the health law may be key to its success or failure, strongly believe health insurance is important for them and worth the money, according to a new poll.

As some states and the federal government prepare new online marketplaces for people to purchase insurance this fall, the willingness of young people to buy coverage has been a topic of great uncertainty. Their participation in these marketplaces is considered crucial, since the young tend to be healthier than older people and, therefore, will use fewer medical resources, allowing their premiums to help subsidize the care of the old and sick.

Among age groups, the young are considered the hardest sell on insurance, because the coverage mandated under the 2010 health law is more comprehensive — and therefore more expensive — than the catastrophic policies that many now obtain. Young adults are considered more likely to believe they won’t suffer any horrible illnesses or injuries — a trend that has led to them being labeled “young invincibles.”

The poll found some reason to believe that the young may not shun the health law requirement that they hold insurance starting next January. More than 71 percent of adults 30 or younger say having health insurance is “very important to them,” according to the poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is an independent program of the foundation.) When the pollsters put the question differently by asking whether “insurance is something I need,” more than 74 percent of people under age 30 agreed.

Two-thirds of those 30 or younger agreed with the statement that “insurance is worth the money it costs,” although the pollsters did not offer those polled any dollar figures for an estimated cost. Liz Hamel, an associate director of the foundation’s polling unit, said the goal of the question was to elicit people’s general attitude toward insurance cost, not to attempt to predict whether they would ultimately take up coverage. In addition, she said, it would be hard to offer a set figure for premiums, given that they will vary among states and the size of a person’s family.

Also, two-thirds of these young adults said they worried about paying medical bills in the case of a serious illness or accident, and more than 44 percent said they were concerned about medical bills from routine care.

“The large majority of Americans want and value health insurance,” the pollsters wrote. “More than seven in ten young adults – a special focus of outreach and enrollment efforts — say it is very important to them personally to have insurance. Cost remains the biggest barrier for the uninsured, with four in ten citing the expense of coverage as the main reason they don’t have it.”

The poll also indicated that the Obama administration, states and health care advocates have much to do to make people aware of the new health insurance exchanges that are being created for people who don’t get coverage through an employer. Forty-five percent of people polled said they had heard “nothing at all” about these marketplaces, and 34 percent said they had heard “only a little.” Low-income people and the uninsured knew less about the marketplaces than did their more affluent and covered counterparts, the poll found.

The poll found that once again opposition to the health care law is greater than support by a margin of 43 percent to 35 percent. The poll also found that names matter significantly in this discussion. Calling it “Obamacare” rather than the “health reform law” pushes the partisan buttons, causing more Democrats to say they favor it and more Republicans to say they oppose it. Most substantially, the number of Democrats saying they favor Obamacare is 73 percent, while only 58 percent of Democrats favor the “health reform law.” Republican opposition to the law rises by 10 percentage points if it is called “Obamacare,” with 86 percent of Republicans taking a dim view of the nicknamed program.

The survey was conducted June 4 through June 9 among 1,505 adults through landlines and cell phones. The margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points, with higher margins for subgroups.

jrau@kff.org