Hospital visits were less likely to start with a trip to the emergency room with the under-26 coverage in place, suggesting that young adults sought more discretionary services, wrote authors Yaa Akosa Antwi, Kosali Simon and Asako Moriya of Indiana University.
Notably, hospital visits among young adults were not more costly or lengthy after the insurance expansion. Nonetheless, there were more trips to the hospital, where costs quickly escalate thanks to hospitals' overhead.
“This is a very expensive, intensive form of healthcare,” said Simon, a health economist and professor at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
Young adults also were more likely to be hospitalized for mental healthcare, the study said. Demand for outpatient mental healthcare is more sensitive to health insurance coverage than other medical care, prior research suggests. Simon and her colleagues found inpatient mental health visits increased 9% among young adults.
Results, however, look exclusively at the first year after the 2010 law expanded dependent coverage, Simon said. The increased use of hospital services may have been pent-up demand that will not continue. Newly insured adults also may eventually connect with primary-care services that will prevent future hospitalization, she said. Or health insurers may also work to more aggressively manage care among the newly insured, she added.
The research found the number of hospitalized young adults dropped by 12.5%.
Prior research suggests that greater insurance coverage typically results in greater use of healthcare services, regardless of whether health plans are public or private, said Amanda Kowalski, an assistant professor of economics at Yale University.