Four Ways to Get More Young Adults Health Coverage

Les Masterson, for HealthLeaders Media , September 2, 2009

And here are two pieces of state legislation that could improve health coverage access to young adults:

  • Increase the age that young adults can be considered dependents for insurance purposes

New Jersey and New Hampshire allow residents to cover their children under their health insurance up to the age of 30. Another 24 states have similar laws with less liberal age requirements. Most of them allow parents to cover their children until the age of 25.

States have created these laws because many young adults lose their parents' coverage once they graduate from college. The transition from schooling to the workforce often includes low wages and no health benefits and leaves many young adults without health insurance.

Providing a safety net by increasing the dependent health insurance age could resolve that issue.

  • Allow mandate-lite health plans

I wrote about mandate-lite plans in March 2008. Some states have options that allow insurers to offer health plans with few state mandates, which reduces the costs of offering those plans.

There are about 2,000 mandated healthcare benefits and providers throughout the country, and those mandates increase healthcare costs by more than 50% in some states, according to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance.

Some of these mandates include: Services like hair and limb prostheses, bone mass measurement, and care for TMJ disorders; providers like dentists, optometrists, and marriage therapists; and covered persons such as non-custodial children and adopted children.

The benefit of mandate-lite plans is that they are low-cost options for young adults who simply want preventive and catastrophic coverage. The downside is that they might not cover certain services, such as maternity care. So educating young adults about these plans is critical if your state provides mandate-lite options.

Those are a mere four ways that health insurers and policymakers can tackle the issue—short of implementing a federal individual mandate that would require all Americans to have health insurance. All four ideas could be implemented without much problem or capital.

In a time when the industry is facing fewer employer-based members and a potential public insurance option, think about how the infusion millions of uninsured young adults would benefit health insurers. These proposals could add new members who are lower cost than the general member population—especially elderly and sick members.

Les Masterson is an editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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