Young adults' health care utilization and expenditures prior to the Affordable Care Act

Josephine S Lau, Sally H Adams, W John Boscardin, Charles E Irwin
Journal of Adolescent Health: Official Publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine 2014, 54 (6): 663-71

PURPOSE: To examine young adults' health care utilization and expenditures prior to the Affordable Care Act.

METHODS: We used 2009 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to (1) compare young adults' health care utilization and expenditures of a full-spectrum of health services to children and adolescents and (2) identify disparities in young adults' utilization and expenditures, based on access (insurance and usual source of care) and other sociodemographic factors, including race/ethnicity and income.

RESULTS: Young adults had (1) significantly lower rates of overall utilization (72%) than other age groups (83%-88%, p < .001), (2) the lowest rate of office-based utilization (55% vs. 67%-77%, p < .001) and (3) higher rate of emergency room visits compared with adolescents (15% vs. 12%, p < .01). Uninsured young adults had high out-of-pocket expenses. Compared with the young adults with private insurance, the uninsured spent less than half on health care ($1,040 vs. $2,150/person, p < .001) but essentially the same out-of-pocket expenses ($403 vs. $380/person, p = .57). Among young adults, we identified significant disparities in utilization and expenditures based on the presence/absence of a usual source of care, race/ethnicity, home language, and sex.

CONCLUSIONS: Young adults may not be utilizing the health care system optimally by having low rates of office-based visits and high rates of emergency room visits. The Affordable Care Act provision of insurance for those previously uninsured or under-insured will likely increase their utilization and expenditures and lower their out-of-pocket expenses. Further effort is needed to address noninsurance barriers and ensure equal access to health services.

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