A study released today by the Health Care Cost Institute found that per capita health care spending for young adults (ages 19-25) with employer-sponsored insurance grew at a rate nearly double that of other adults in 2011 and 2012, the first two years after the federal health care overhaul allowed parents to include their adult children on their plans.


The brief, Selected Health Care Trends for Young Adults: 2007-2012,  is one of the first to examine health care trends for young adults before and after implementation of Section 1001 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010. Prior to the passage of that law, many children lost health insurance coverage upon turning 19.


Insurance enrollment for young adults soared by 3.1 million, or 10.4 percent, between fall 2010 and the end of 2011, according to the National Health Information Survey, almost all of which was due to increases in private coverage.


In 2011, young adults' use of health services grew, fueling an 8.3 percent increase in their health care spending. In contrast, spending on other adults grew by 3.8 percent that year.  However, other demographic and health factors may have contributed to the increase in use of health care services, and the increased spending may not have been due entirely to the Affordable Care Act, the researchers said.


"This study provides important insights for researchers and policymakers trying to assess the impacts of the ACA on health care use by young adults," HCCI Senior Researcher Amanda Frost said in a release. "Clearly, health care use increased and in some cases strikingly." Based in Washington, D.C., the nonprofit research institute was formed in 2011 "to promote independent, nonpartisan research and analysis on the causes of the rise in U.S. health spending," according to its website.


Other key findings for young adults:

  • Emergency room visits rose: Spending on ER visits rose 15.6 percent in 2011. The number of visits per 1,000 young adults increased by 10.4 percent in 2011, and an additional 3.6 percent in 2012. Emergency room use accounted for about 13 percent of all young adult health spending.
  • Boost in behavioral health spending: Spending on hospital admissions for mental health and substance use jumped by 52.3 percent in 2011, accelerating a trend that predated the Affordable Care Act. The increase in spending was largely due to an increase in the number of these admissions.
  • Spending for young men grew faster: Average spending for men rose from $1,341 in 2007 to $1,952 in 2012, while spending for women rose from $2,472 to $3,146.