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Young adults protected from emergency room costs under Affordable Care Act: Study

The Affordable Care Act has provided financial protections for young adults facing medical emergencies, according to a new study.

President Barack Obama signed the law in March 2010, and one of its provisions that kicked in that September allowed young adults between the ages of 19 and 25 to stay on their parents' private health insurance plans. The extra coverage stops when they turn 26 years old.

Researchers from the nonprofit research organization, the RAND Corporation in Washington D.C., examined more than 480,000 emergency room visits that took place between 2009 and 2011 at nearly 400 U.S. hospitals, to find out whether the ACA had any impact on their coverage.

They were only looking at serious injuries and illnesses that would likely cause a person to seek care in the emergency room whether or not they had insurance. Uninsured patients sometimes visit the ER as their primary care provider for even minor ailments.

The researchers compared the coverage rates in young adults to a comparison group of adults ages 26 to 31 who were not affected by the new law. They found in 2011, more than 22,000 emergency visits involved young adults who were newly insured because of the provision. That represented at 3 percent increase in health insurance coverage rates among young adults in need of emergency care.

The study was published May 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"The change allowing young people to remain on their parents' medical insurance is protecting young adults and their families from the significant financial risk posed by emergency medical care. Hospitals are benefiting, too, because they are treating fewer uninsured young people for emergency ailments,"" lead author Andrew Mulcahy, a health policy researcher at RAND, said in a press release. "Because we looked at only the most-serious emergency cases to rule out the influence of insurance on the decision to seek health care, we probably underestimate the full financial benefits that the new rules have provided to young adults who need urgent medical care."

Research in September 2011, one year after the young adult provision had been implemented, found the number of uninsured adults between 19-25 droppedfrom 10 million from 2010 to 9.1 million in the first three months of 2011, a sharp drop for a short time period.

A more recent study RAND cites estimated the provision led to an added 3.1 million insured young adults.

The ACA's mandate to cover all uninsured Americans begins in 2014. has more information on the Affordable Care Act for young adults.

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