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Expanded Health Care Covers More Young Marylanders

Montgomery County has one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the state.

By KELSI LOOS for Capital News Service

The percentage of young Marylanders with health insurance rose to 81.7 percent last year from 75 percent in 2009, a rate much faster than the national average, data released Thursday by the Census Bureau show.

While experts generally attribute the overall national increase in health coverage of adults aged 19 to 25 to the Affordable Care Act, which in 2010 expanded Medicaid and private health care coverage to that age group, it is not quite as clear why the increase of insured in Maryland rose at a rate higher than the national average.

Nationally, the insured rate of adults 25-34 rose from 68.3 percent in 2009 to 71.8 percent in 2011, while in Maryland the rate rose from 75 to 81.7 percent.

"Maryland's economy has been better than other states and, obviously, people can have health care when they have a job," said Gene Ransom of MedChi, The Maryland State Medical Society. He said he did not know why the state's insured rate increased faster than the national average.

The ACA allows people under 26 to enroll in a parent's health plan.

Several students at the University of Maryland, College Park expressed relief over the chance to enroll in their parent's plans for a longer period of time.

"It's nice to know for now that I don't have to worry about the ridiculous cost of insurance here," said 25-year-old Lis Sams, who is included on her parents' insurance plan.

However, she is concerned about what happens when she turns 26 next year. She hopes to be employed with health benefits soon after she graduates in December.

William Dowling, a 19-year-old English student also on his parents' plan, disagreed with the Obama administration's health-care mandate in general, but was supportive of extended coverage for young adults.

"For that part of the plan, it's good ... (but) I think our entire generation is too dependent on our parents. People have to enter the real world eventually," he said.

There was a large difference in the rate of uninsured among Maryland counties in 2011, the data showed. Carroll, Calvert and Anne Arundel counties had the lowest rates of uninsured people as a whole at 4.7, 5.7 and 6.8 percent respectively. Montgomery, Wicomico and Cecil counties had the highest uninsured rates at 11.7, 11.4 and 10.2 percent.

With the economy still recovering nationwide, more people have relied on public health insurance nationally, according to a separate study released last week by the Census Bureau.

Genevieve M. Kenney, Urban Institute senior fellow and economist said the increase reflected a general expansion of government health insurance programs, a trend she expects to continue.

For the first time in a decade, between 2010 and 2011 the rate of people covered by private insurance remained steady.

Leighton Ku, professor of health policy at the George Washington University, said the stability of private insurance coverage may also be due to the Affordable Care Act.

"If you look at the coverage statistics for young people, private insurance went up... a lot of people think that it is an effect of the Affordable Care Act," he said. 

He also cited the expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program and the relatively level cost of medical care as further reasons for the steady rate of people covered by private insurance.

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