Thursday, May 21, 2009

Economic Downturn Forces Young Adults to Forgo Healthcare

There’s a recession outside. Times are rough and people everywhere are looking to make sacrifices to make ends meet. Worst off, these sacrifices take place in one of the most significant aspect of our lives: health care.

Due to economic hardship, approximately 47 percent of Americans report cutting back on healthcare spending to loosen up on budget restrictions. This number demonstrates an increase from the 42 percent originally reported in an April 2009 Kaiser Family Foundation Consumer Poll. Young adults of college age are the largest and fastest growing population of uninsured in the U.S. residents, despite their generally good health and relatively inexpensive premiums. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the young adult population is approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population and of that number, 29 million (23.9 percent) young adults, between the ages of 18 to 24, are uninsured. This percentage is significantly higher than the national average of less than 20 percent for uninsured adults. Without health insurance, a disproportionate number of young adults lose access to health services, forcing them to rely on community health centers, abandoning preventive treatment and services, or paying high out-of-pocket expenses in the event of an emergent or unexpected injury or illness. In a failing economy young adults tend to forgo health care and use their meager resources for food.

The increase of the uninsured among the young adult population raises concerns regarding the long-term impact of no coverage on the overall population and the potential rise of chronic disease of insolvency continues. Furthermore, the impact of embarrassment and stigma placed on young people seeking subsidies for access to health care serves as another barrier for young adults to facilitate ongoing utilization and participation in managing their health care. As Americans continue to experience tougher economic times, the health care system must come up with effective strategies that provide affordability and accessibility to medical services among the young adult population.

Effective strategies to address the difficulties of health care access will require the health care system to adopt a social perspective on health which includes providing a variety of interventions that are more youth and economically friendly, in addition to flexible. Partnerships with community health centers and young adult advocacy groups may prove valuable in outreach efforts to highlight the importance of having health care services. Advocating to state human services departments to provide subsidized funding, on a sliding scale, to those young adults who are unable to afford the entire cost of a premium may also assist in providing greater affordability amongst members of this promotion.

Additionally, there is a dire need to dispel the stigmas associated with attending health services or seeking federal/state subsidization to gain access to such services. Balanced health education and promotion programs are necessary to address the young adult population. Posters and other resources which promote relevant health services and programs can be instrumental in conveying to the young adult population that health care needs are a normal good and deemed significant among health care providers and health services.

Seeking to increase access and utilization of the health care system by young people requires an in-depth look at the poverty issues challenging a rising number of young people and their families. As the number of safety-net providers and clinic services continue to decline, disadvantaged young people will continue to forgo access to health care.

It is important that programs such as Medicaid and Medicare expand their eligibility criteria to meet the financial constraints confronting the young adult population. Also, state human services departments and various advocacy groups should develop policy recommendations that would alleviate some of the antiquated eligibility requirements that are necessary to participate in federal or state benefit programs.

Health care is not a privilege, it is a right. If the number of uninsured young adults continues to rise, long term cost on our health care system could be beyond devastating.

No comments: