By Kelly Kennedy, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - More than 3.1 million Americans ages 19 through 25 are covered by their parents' medical insurance policies because of a provision in the 2010 health care law, the Department of Health and Human Services is expected to announce today.
That's up from 2.5 million in December. About 75% of people in that age group now have insurance, up from 64% in 2010, records show.
"This policy doesn't just give young adults and their families peace of mind, it also gives them freedom," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, hitting upon a note often struck by Democrats making the case that the law allows young people to pursue entrepreneurial careers that may not give them health benefits. "They will be free to make choices based on what they want to do, not on where they can get health insurance."
The provision has become so popular - both for security reasons for consumers and financial reasons for insurers - that several health companies and employers say they intend to keep it even if the Supreme Court were to strike down the law, or portions of it, this month.
It also adds healthy people to the insurance pool should the court strike down just the part of the law that requires people to buy health insurance, said Ron Pollack, founding executive director of Families USA, which supports the law.
Three large insurers - Humana, Aetna and UnitedHealth Group- have said they intend to leave the provision in place because the policy provides "peace of mind" and stability.
"It's good for consumers," said Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, adding that there has been no data yet on whether the provision brings down health costs. "The goal is to try to get as many people covered as possible."
Adding young people, who tend not to use health services as much as older people, should bring down everyone's costs, said Sandy Praeger, Kansas insurance commissioner and former president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
"I think it's a good business decision," she said. "If it was causing premiums to go up, companies would think long and hard about going back to the old ways."
Gains in coverage were highest for young men - from 58% to 72%, the new data show. Men ages 19 through 25 are the least likely of any group to have insurance, which probably played into the large increase, according to HHS. The total percentage of young adults who were uninsured fell from 34% in 2010 to 28% in 2011.
"It is striking and very heartening to know that 3 million young adults have gained financial and health security," said Richard Kronick, deputy assistant secretary for health policy for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "I'm not sure I've ever seen a result quite so striking in such a short period of time."
Though he has called for the law to be "repealed and replaced," Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has not said whether he would try to keep this portion of the law.