Washington When Allison McMaster Young heard that the new health overhaul law would allow her husband and her to keep their 21-year-old son on their family health insurance policy until he was 26, she breathed a sigh of relief.
Alex will graduate from Fordham University on May 21. Under the terms of the family plan they have through her husband’s job, he’ll lose his coverage the very next day because he’ll no longer be a full-time student. Keeping Alex on the family policy would be by far the simplest and most affordable way to keep him covered after he graduates.
Then Young went online, however, and read the legislative language. The provision, she learned, won’t become effective until Sept. 23, six months after it was enacted. Her family faces a four-month gap during which they’ll have to cover Alex’s medical bills or find an alternative insurance option.
“I thought, this is a big problem, both for us and for all those people who think their kids are going to be eligible when they graduate in May,” said Young, whose family lives in Manassas, Va.
The president and legislative leaders have showcased the young adult coverage provision, along with a few other consumer-friendly changes, as an example of the immediate benefits of the health overhaul. Instead of giving the new law a public relations boost, however, it’s creating consternation among some parents, who are sharing their concerns online about when the provision kicks in and whether their families will qualify.
Until the Department of Health and Human Services issues regulations for the new law, many details about how it will work remain uncertain. For example, it’s not clear how “dependents” will be defined.
A companion measure removed a restriction in the main legislation on extending coverage if the child were married, said Sara Collins, a vice president of the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit health policy-research organization. Likewise, employed children may be covered under the new provision as long as they don’t have access to health insurance through their jobs, according to an HHS spokesman. Complete guidance must await the regulations, however, and no date has been set for their release.
Young adults make up one of the biggest groups of the uninsured. Forty-five percent of those ages 19 to 29 were uninsured for at least part of last year, according to a Commonwealth Fund survey last summer of 2,002 young adults. This figure is significantly higher than the 30 percent rate that the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured reported for 2008, and it may be a result of the economic downturn. (Kaiser Health News is part of the foundation.)
Since many health plans require adult children to be full-time students in order to stay on their parents’ plans, young adults are at particularly high risk for losing coverage when they leave high school or college.
The Commonwealth Fund survey found that although more than three-quarters of college students had health insurance while they were in school, 28 percent lost their coverage when they graduated or left school. Nearly half of those who were able to get new insurance experienced a gap in coverage; in many cases they were uninsured for a year or more.
About half the states have passed laws that extend the ages that children can remain on their parents’ policies into their mid-20s or later. To qualify, however, children may have to be full-time students, live at home or be financially dependent, among other restrictions.