Catherine Rampell, from the New York Times blog Economix, suggests an alternative to the conventional wisdom that youth aren’t insured (and don’t care about reform) due to their invincibility.

Rampell constructs her argument using some Gallup data released last week. First, she confronts the idea that young people, assumed to be healthier than the rest of the population, would rather risk not buying health insurance, thus leading to higher costs for the rest of the pool. In fact, Rampell finds that young people are actually less willing to take risks than you might think:

Three-quarters of those 18-29 year-olds describing themselves as healthy still purchased health insurance. As Rampell explains, one can dig deeper into this data, inquiring about variables like income. Rampell does that and finds something.

Perhaps people who are likely to have health insurance are also likely to be healthy for an independent reason: It costs money to buy health insurance, and it costs money to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In other words, perhaps it is money, not perceived risk of getting sick, that determines whether young people get insurance.

As it turns out, people who can afford health insurance are much, much more likely to get it:

Among young adults, 86 percent of those in the top third of the income distribution (people earning $48,000 or more annually) have health insurance. In the middle third (those earning between $24,000 and $48,000), 72 percent have health insurance. And in the bottom third (those making less than $24,000), just 58 percent are on a health plan.

It appears to be affordability, not recklessness (or even rational cost-benefit analysis of health risk), that is driving young people away from insurance policies.

Though reporters and pundits might think something is true, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other unseen or unmentioned possibilities or factors affecting the phenomenon. Thanks to Catherine Rampell for digging deeper.