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Million young adults get health coverage under law

Associated Press | 9/27/2011, 11:29 p.m.

WASHINGTON — At least one part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul has proven popular. With the economy sputtering, the number of young adults covered by health insurance grew by about a million as families flocked to take advantage of a new benefit in the law.

Two surveys released last week — one by the government, another by Gallup — found significantly fewer young adults going without coverage even as the overall number of uninsured remained high.

The government’s National Center for Health Statistics found that the number of uninsured people ages 19-25 dropped from 10 million last year to 9.1 million in the first three months of this year, a sharp decline over such a brief period.

New data from an ongoing Gallup survey found that the share of adults 18-25 without coverage dropped from 28 percent last fall to 24.2 percent by this summer. That drop translates to roughly 1 million or more young adults gaining coverage.

The new health care law allows young adults to remain on their parents’ health plans until they turn 26. Previously, families faced a hodgepodge of policies. Some health plans covered only adult children while they were full-time students. Others applied an age cutoff.

Elizabeth Wilson, an aspiring opera singer who lives near Indianapolis, said her mother’s plan dropped her in the midst of a medical crisis because she had turned 23. At the time, Wilson was in the hospital under treatment for an inflammation of the pancreas. Because of the overhaul, she has been able to get back on the policy.

“It means I don’t have to spend every penny I make to get health care,” said Wilson, now 24. “I can use some of it to further my studies — or buy food.”

The two surveys were welcome news for the administration, which is trying to fight off attempts to repeal the law — which some GOP lawmakers and candidates call “Obamacare” — or to overturn it in court.

“It’s very disappointing to hear some people in Congress talk about repealing the law and taking away this security,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Repealing Obama’s law, which Congress approved in March 2010, would end the requirement that health plans cover young adults up to age 26. But some GOP lawmakers say they would include such a mandate in replacement legislation to follow.

While the bleak economy has made it hard for young people to get jobs, fewer are being forced to go without medical care, defying an overall trend of rising numbers of working-age Americans who lack coverage.

“While we did not see a drop-off in any other age group, we did see a drop in this age group,” said Frank Newport, Gallup’s polling director.

Gallup found that the share of 26 to 64 year olds uninsured rose from 18.1 percent in the fall of last year to 19.9 percent this summer.

Public opinion remains divided about Obama’s overhaul, but coverage for young adults has proven to be a popular and relatively low-cost benefit in these days of prolonged school-to-work transitions. The provision technically took effect last fall but wasn’t implemented by most workplace health plans until Jan. 1.