Health Insurance and Mobility

The Commonwealth Fund has a new study out on a topic near and dear to my heart: young adults. In particular, most of them don’t have health insurance, since after they pass the tender age of 19, they either get booted off their parents’ dependent coverage, or booted off Medicaid, or booted off CHIP. Meanwhile, many graduates lose coverage immediately after leaving college. And hey, we may look healthy, but not always—pregnancies, emergency room visits, diabetes—and young adults are less able to handle catastrophic costs than are, say, older adults who have saved up the money.

At any rate, the paper notes that it’s relatively easy to cover young adults, but as with most such studies, merely makes the moral case for doing so. Hey, I love the moral case; it’s a great case. But I figure most people either believe that millions of uninsured Americas are a moral scandal or they don’t. Fortunately, the paper hints at an economic case for covering young adults as well:

Contrary to conventional wisdom, young adults do not so easily dismiss the risks of not having health coverage. When the Biennial Health Insurance Survey questioned young workers about their desire for health insurance, seven of 10 of those between 19 and 29 years of age said that health insurance was very important to them in deciding whether or not to take a job, a rate similar to that for older workers.

In an ideal labor market, people would take the job they were best-suited for, so that we could properly harness everyone’s productive and creative capabilities and launch our way into the 21st century. Etcetra. But this survey suggests that a lack of coverage may be skewing the employment choices young people make. It’s possible that this affects older adults to, where, say, a parent might remain in a job she isn’t best suited for because she’s afraid of losing coverage for her family. In theory, the economy of the future should have a lot of labor mobility and people switching from one job to the next quite frequently; but a lack of health insurance will only gum up the works.