Report: High Percentage of Young Adults are Uninsured

April 15, 2008

Just a few days after Philip Hendrickx graduated from college, he was in the hospital.

The 21-year-old rural Fergus Falls, Minn., man had major facial surgery to correct misaligned jaws. He had only two weeks after graduation before he was kicked off his mother’s insurance plan.

“If we didn’t have it fixed now, he would probably suffer with that the rest of his life,” said his mother, Denise Hendrickx.

Her son could not have paid for the much-needed $50,000 surgery on his own and, like millions of young adults nationwide, he is not insured.

More than 25 percent of adults ages 18 to 34 are uninsured, says the 2008 State of the States report from State Coverage Initiatives, a national program that works with states to improve the availability and affordability of health care coverage.

In North Dakota, figures from the University of North Dakota Social Science Research Institute in 2004 — the most recent available — show North Dakotans ages 18 to 24 have the highest uninsured percentage of any age group, at 16 percent. In Minnesota, a survey last year found 19 percent of young adults ages 18 to 24 and 12 percent of young adults ages 25 to 34 were uninsured.

Sarah Lindvall, 23, of Fargo, went without health insurance for six months after she graduated from college and before she started working full time for MeritCare Health System in Fargo.

Like many her age, Lindvall didn’t worry about a medical emergency that could leave her thousands of dollars in debt.

“I’m young. I’m strong. I work out every single day,” Lindvall said. “When you think health insurance, you really don’t think, what if an accident happens. It’s always, ‘Ah, I’m not going to get sick.”‘

Hendrickx also decided he would be better off paying for doctors’ appointments as needed. He could have paid $425 a month to continue his prior coverage. Even though he snowmobiles, drag races and helps out on his family’s farm — all risky endeavors — he decided not to buy insurance, something experts say is even more of a risk.

“You really don’t know the value of health insurance until you need it,” said Alana Knudson, associate director of research with the University of North Dakota Center for Rural Health. “Then it’s a little late to find out.”

Catastrophic health conditions leave many uninsured people on the brink of bankruptcy, Knudson said.

In the 1980s, Jill Schroeder was hospitalized twice in one year and had to file for bankruptcy.

The Hawley, Minn., resident was too old for her parents’ insurance policy and wasn’t offered insurance through her employer, she said.

“It was a very difficult decision,” Schroeder said. “There’s such a stigma with people who file bankruptcy, or there was back then. It was kind of hard to admit that I couldn’t do it.”

She barely made more than minimum wage and could not pay off her $30,000 medical debt, despite selling her car and moving in with her parents.

Having health insurance is now a priority.

“I work really hard to stay on top of things because I said I’ll never go through that again,” Schroeder said. “I make sure any position I hold has benefits.”

Visiting a doctor costs $155 on average nationally, according to a survey conducted in 2004 by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the health services research arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The average cost of a visit to a family doctor at Fargo MeritCare for an uninsured patient is $107, said Carrie Haug, a MeritCare spokeswoman. That figure is based on a 15-minute visit with an established patient who requires no tests.

The average cost of a visit to MeritCare’s Fast Track clinic is $45, which does not include testing. Fast Track offers limited basic medical services such as treatment of colds. Patients pay for visits up front.

MeritCare serves about 18,000 uninsured patients each year at all its North Dakota and Minnesota locations, and it provides medically necessary urgent and emergency care for all patients, regardless of their ability to pay, Haug said.

Financial burdens of the uninsured, regardless of age, extend beyond those without coverage.

“Health care costs rise for everybody if most folks aren’t in the health care pool,” said Adam Hamm, North Dakota’s insurance commissioner.

A 2006 North Dakota health insurance report found 72 percent of uninsured young adults ages 18 to 24 are employed. A majority work for businesses with 10 or fewer employees. Those companies are less likely than larger firms to offer coverage, a Center for Rural Health survey said.

Hamm said a good option for young adults is to buy high-deductible health plans and put money into health savings accounts, which are owned by an individual and used to pay for current and future medical expenses. The money is not subject to federal income tax when it is deposited, and there is no tax liability when it is used for approved medical care, he said.

Source: The Forum.

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