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The Affordable Care Act was signed into law in March 2010. (Shutterstock) The Affordable Care Act was signed into law in March 2010. (Shutterstock)

The Affordable Care Act was signed into law in March 2010. (Shutterstock)

Madeline Heim
By Madeline Heim May 17, 2024

Yes, millions of young Americans got health care because of Wisconsin senator’s ACA efforts

If Your Time is short

  • After the passage of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., was credited in multiple venues for authoring the provision of the law that allowed young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26. 

  • That included a letter from former U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., then chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who said he was pleased "the amendment (she) drafted" made it into the House’s final version of the bill. 

  • The Affordable Care Act passed March 23, 2010, with this provision set to take effect six months later. Some insurance companies agreed to start implementing it as soon as May 2010.

  • Because parents had to notify their insurance providers that they wanted to add their children as dependents on their policies, "overnight" is a slight exaggeration, said one expert — but the change still happened quickly.

As Election Day creeps closer, the race between U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and challenger Eric Hovde, a Republican businessman, remains closely watched. 

Hovde – who is trailing Baldwin slightly among registered voters according to an April 17 Marquette Law School poll – has sought to tie his opponent to President Joe Biden, who has faced tough polling numbers in recent days.

Baldwin, meanwhile, is touting past accomplishments. 

Lately, that has included the role she played in the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which occurred when she was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives

"When I worked on the Affordable Care Act, I wrote the amendment that allows all young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they turn 26. Overnight, millions of young Americans got health care," she wrote in a May 5, 2024 X post, saying Hovde "wants to rip it all up." 

We’ll focus on the first two parts of that statement. Did Baldwin author that amendment, a highly popular part of the overall law? And did the change take place overnight? 

Let’s take a look.

Baldwin gets credit for authoring the under-26 provision

A Baldwin campaign spokesperson said that although members’ names don’t get attached to the thousands of provisions that make up a big bill like the Affordable Care Act, the senator (then the congresswoman) was credited with the idea on several occasions. 

That includes a Feb. 7, 2012, letter from former U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., then chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, thanking Baldwin for being the committee’s "leading voice" on the issue of young adults having access to health insurance. 

"I was pleased that the amendment you drafted to allow young adults to gain access to their parent’s or guardian’s health insurance was included in the final House version of the legislation," Waxman wrote. 

Prior to its inclusion in the House version of the legislation, Baldwin and three colleagues from Maryland and Pennsylvania were credited with pushing House leadership to make the change.

When the House and Senate versions of the bill were meshed to create the Affordable Care Act, that provision remained, and Baldwin’s role in it is often mentioned among her achievements, particularly during her first run for the U.S. Senate against former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson. 

An Oct. 21, 2012, Wisconsin State Journal article on that race mentions Baldwin "authored the provision that allows children up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans." 

A Nov. 5, 2012, story in the Guardian says she "supported and even wrote part of the healthcare bill – the section enabling children to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26." 

And former President Bill Clinton, stumping for Baldwin in November 2012, said, "It was her amendment that guaranteed in (former President Barack Obama’s) health care reform law that young people under 26 would be able to be carried on their parents’ insurance plans for the first time in history." 

On this part of the claim, she’s spot-on. 

‘Overnight’ exaggerates, but the change did happen fast 

Turning to the second part of Baldwin’s claim: did millions of young Americans get health care overnight? 

The "millions" part is easy. A June 8, 2012, report from the Commonwealth Fund estimated that in 2011, 6.6 million young adults ages 19 to 25 stayed on or joined their parents’ health plans who would not have been able to do so prior to the provision taking effect. 

But in politics, things rarely happen overnight. 

This phrasing was an exaggeration, said Gerald Kominski, senior fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Health Policy Research – although not too far off. 

Obama signed the Affordable Care Act March 23, 2010, Kominski said, and the provision to allow young people under 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance was set to take effect six months later, on Sept. 23, 2010. On that date, insurance companies that offered dependent health benefits had to expand those benefits to adult children up to age 26, he said. 

In the meantime, former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was pushing insurance companies to make the change faster, as soon as May of that year. More than 60 insurers agreed.

Once the provision took effect, though, parents had to notify their insurers or employers that they’d be claiming their children as dependents and add those children to their policies, Kominski said — making the process a bit less immediate than Baldwin’s post asserts. Still, he said, in political time, the change happened quickly.  

Our ruling 

Baldwin claimed, "When I worked on the Affordable Care Act, I wrote the amendment that allows all young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they turn 26. Overnight, millions of young Americans got health care." 

Multiple sources do credit her with authoring the draft of that provision. 

And it did give millions of young Americans access to health insurance — though not quite as speedily as she contended. 

Our definition of Mostly True is a statement that is accurate but needs clarification or additional information. 

That fits here. 

 

Our Sources

Marquette University Law School poll, April 17, 2024

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Eric Hovde's campaign digs at Tammy Baldwin with bobbleheads tying her to Biden policies," March 6, 2024

The New York Times, "Trump Leads in 5 Key States, as Young and Nonwhite Voters Express Discontent With Biden," May 13, 2024

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "About the Affordable Care Act," accessed May 13, 2024

Ballotpedia, Tammy Baldwin, accessed May 13, 2024

Letter from former U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman to then-U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin 

The Hill, "Pelosi appeals to youth in health bill," Oct. 14, 2009

Politico, "Baldwin tops Thompson in Wisconsin," Nov. 7, 2012

Wisconsin State Journal, "U.S. Senate contest between Tammy, Tommy has high stakes," Oct. 21, 2012

The Guardian, "Tammy Baldwin: Openly gay Senate candidate on brink of history," Nov. 5, 2012

YouTube, "President Clinton on the importance of electing Tammy Baldwin (Highlights)," Nov. 1, 2012

The Commonwealth Fund, "An Estimated 6.6 Million Young Adults Stayed on or Joined Their Parents' Health Plans in 2011 Who Would Not Have Been Eligible Prior to Passage of the Affordable Care Act," June 8, 2012

Phone call with Gerald Kominski, senior fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Health Policy Research, May 13, 2024


Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, "Young Adults and the Affordable Care Act: Protecting Young Adults and Eliminating Burdens on Families and Businesses," accessed May 14, 2024

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Yes, millions of young Americans got health care because of Wisconsin senator’s ACA efforts

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