OBJECTIVE. Young adults have the lowest rate of insurance coverage of any age group. Little is known about insurance patterns from adolescence through the early 30s. The objective of this study was to assess patterns and disparities in health insurance from adolescence through the early 30s.
DESIGN. We analyzed data from the 2002 and 2003 National Health Interview Survey (ages 13–32; N = 48827). We examined public and private insurance coverage and conducted logistic regression to evaluate racial/ethnic and income disparities in coverage. Outcomes were insurance coverage at ages 13 to 32.
RESULTS. Insurance patterns follow a U-shaped curve across the age categories. Rates are highest at ages 13 to 14, lowest at ages 23 to 24, and then increase gradually. Private rate patterns are similar; however, public coverage decreases across ages. In bivariate analyses, black and Hispanic groups had lower coverage rates than the white group, and the low- and middle-income groups had lower rates than the high-income group. After adjustment for confounding variables, all disparities remained significant except for differences between the black and white groups.
CONCLUSIONS. After age 18, all groups are vulnerable to lack of insurance. Rate increases beyond age 25 to 26 years are attributable to increases in private coverage, whereas decreases in public coverage account for the lack of a full recovery to the higher rates seen in adolescence. The safety net of public programs that cover adolescents disappears in young adulthood, leaving young adults vulnerable, a problem that persists into the 30s for those who are in poverty and those who are of Hispanic origin.