Affordable Care Act to benefit young adults in Massachusetts


WILLIAMSTOWN -- A lifetime of good health has Ryan Belanger staying away from the doctor’s office.

The 32-year-old network engineer could go anytime. His employer, technology solutions provider Ascentek Inc., subsidizes his medical benefits, but the young adult’s health is almost an afterthought.

During a Berkshires Young Professionals mixer at The Gala in Williamstown, Belanger said he uses his dental benefits, but despite a monthly deduction from his paycheck, he hasn’t had a doctor’s appointment in the last year.

"I am kicking myself for not going," Belanger said when asked about the last time he visited a doctor.

Nationally, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as "Obamacare," has resulted in a drive to enlist young adults into health care programs. Nearly one-third of young adults between 18 to 29 are uninsured, the highest rate of any age group, according to a 2008 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

However, in the Bay State, 98 percent of residents, including most young adults, have insurance. The ACA could still benefit them with lower costs or more health plan options.

While they might not use their health care, young adults say they are happy to contribute to protect themselves from burdensome, and at times inescapable, health care bills.

Two years ago, Belanger said his health care plan proved invaluable when he discovered he had kidney stones. He had two visits to his primary care physician, and an additional three with a urologist -- a potentially hefty price tag that was reduced to a few hundred dollars.

"If I didn’t have health insurance I can’t imagine what the bill would be," Belanger said.

Pittsfield resident Bethany Kirchmann, 28, says she is on her husband’s health care plan. She attends annual checkups.

"If I didn’t have health insurance, I probably wouldn’t," said Kirchmann, who added she was thankful her husband had insurance after his knee became infected several months ago. "He felt it bothered him too much he couldn’t ignore it anymore [and went to the doctor]."

Health officials said Massachusetts residents, and eventually the rest of the nation, should have improved health, even though it might not be immediately noticeable.

"It’s not always a short-term positive impact, but a long-term positive impact," said Community Health Programs CEO Bryan Ayars. Ayars spoke optimistically saying, "We will minimize the effect of chronic disease and the costs, but also more acute issues as well."

There are two provisions in the ACA that will boost enrollment and potentially lower health care cost for young adults, according to Research Director Brian Rosman, of health care advocacy nonprofit Health Care for All.

Young adults are eligible to stay on their parents’ plan until 26. Massachusetts state law previously only allowed adults to stay on their parents’ plan up to age 26 for up to two years.

A state-subsidized health option will be eligible to people earning up to 400 percent of the poverty level, or $44,000 for an individual, which could benefit young adults who are more likely to work for smaller companies and are just starting their careers.

Local health providers say they don’t have data on how Berkshire County young adults are using their health insurance plan. The best case scenario, they say, is that young adults are being treated and they are living healthier lives that don’t require hospital stays.

While many young adults are healthy, some deal with chronic conditions that include asthma and diabetes that could carry costly bills. Other common conditions include heart disease, cancer and hypertension, and they will be able to access important health services.

In a Harvard Medical study from May 2013, researchers discovered individuals with asthma under 18 were more likely to receive care than someone older than 18 who is likely to be off their parents’ health care plan.

Citing the cost, the study sampled 2,485 individuals. Individuals older than 18 were more likely to use the emergency room and have difficulty accessing medical care and medication. Those under 18 -- and more likely to be on their parents plan -- were seeing primary care physicians before health issues become serious.

"Injury-related visits to the emergency room are far more common among young adults," said Ayars, who was not part of the study.

Young adults also deal with alcohol dependence, pregnancy and mental health issues, according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health entitled, "The Health Status of Young Adults in the United States." The study reviewed 2,000 nationally represented studies on young adults.

Seventy-five percent of all lifetime cases of diagnosable mental disorders begin by age 24, so young adults can seek early treatment.

The ACA closes the gap between insurance-covered assistance for mental health issues compared to physical issues, according to Rosman.

Young adults have the highest rate of drug and alcohol dependence, according to the study. And women between 20 to 24 had the highest nonmarital birth rate of any age group.

In their late teens and early 20s, the study highlights, young adults are also are exploring steps toward independence, with varying levels of adults supervision, roles and responsibilities.

"Even though they like to think, ‘things can happen,’ " Rosman said. "It leads to bankruptcy and really bad problems last a really long time."

To reach John Sakata:
or (413)-496-6240.
On Twitter: @JSakata


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