A recent study has reported that the number of U.S. families struggling to pay medical bills and debt is growing; so much in fact that last year 45% of young adults ages 19-29 struggled to get the health care they needed.  This means around 5/10 youth were unable to fill a prescription, go to the doctor when they were sick, or skipped a test, treatment or follow-up visit when needed.

Exhibit ES-3. The Number of Adults Without Insurance, Forgoing Health Care Because of Cost, and Paying Large Shares of Their Income on Health Care Has Increased 2001-2010

Adults ages 19–64




In the past 12 months:
Uninsured any time during the year


38 million


48 million


52 million

Any bill problem or medical debt*



58 million


73 million

Any cost-related access problem*


47 million


64 million


75 million

Spent 10% or more of household income on premiums*


10 million


14 million


14 million

Spent 10% or more of household income on premiums and total out-of-pocket costs*


31 million


35 million


49 million

Any of the above



107 million


123 million


According to the 2010 Commonwealth Fund’s Biennial Health Insurance Survey, these medical bill problems are leading to further issues such as youth not being able to pay for necessities such as food, heat, rent, incurring credit card debt or even declaring bankruptcy.

“Of those with medical bill problems or medical debt, one-third had to deplete their savings to pay their bills and one in five had to take on credit card debt,” the study reports.

Luckily, however, there’s still hope; under the Affordable Care Act thousands of young adults have made the decision to stay on their parents’ health insurance until the age of 25.  And it’s only getting better for this demographic; in 2012, college health plans will have to follow most of the same rules that private individual market health plans now face under the Affordable Care Act, meaning no more lifetime coverage limits and rescission and phasing out annual limits.  In addition, 2014 will bring extended Medicaid coverage to all adults with incomes below 133% of the poverty level, reaching an estimated 7.2 million young adults without health insurance.

Finally, in the upcoming years state health insurance exchanges will help low income young adults afford health care by offering comprehensive private health insurance with will include maternity benefits and subsidies.

“In 2014 nearly all young adults will have access to the comprehensive and affordable health insurance they need, allowing them to pursue their life and career goals without the worry that one serious illness or accident could derail their future plans,” said Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis.

With these mandates it is safe to say that this burdened demographic will face less difficulty in the near future.