New Efforts to Insure Young Adults May Beat Reform Proposals to the Punch

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , August 26, 2009

One of the largest groups of uninsured in the country today is young adults--those between the ages of 19 to 26 years. While they make up about 18% of the adult population, they account for up to 28% of the uninsured: an estimated 10.3 million young adults--or about one in three (32%)--lacked health insurance coverage, according to figures from the Urban Institute.

"Because young adults face so many transitions--graduation, job changes, and in this economy, unemployment--they are especially vulnerable to the risks of being uninsured," said Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis, earlier this summer in response to a study of this group. She noted that "comprehensive health reform would go a long way toward ensuring that young adults have stable, affordable health coverage" that would give them access to the care they would need.

It appears that the dilemma of young people has not been far from the minds of health reform-makers on Capitol Hill. For instance, in the healthcare reform bills approved last month by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and the House, provisions were included that call for:

  • Allowing young adults to stay on their parents' health insurance policies until age 26--during the years when they are least able to afford their own coverage.

  • Using an insurance exchange to give young adults the option of enrolling in lower cost insurance plans--with recognition that young adults often have few health needs and are less able to afford coverage at the start of their working careers.

  • Making health insurance available to those without job based coverage, while premium assistance will be available to those who can’t afford it.

However, even if reform measures are approved at the federal level, it will take time for these provisions to be enacted. Actions, though, have been going on elsewhere to provide younger individuals with healthcare coverage.

For instance, earlier this summer, New York became one of about two dozen states requiring commercial insurers and managed care organizations to offer an option to continue coverage for unmarried young adults, in this case, through age 29--regardless of financial dependence under a parent’s group health insurance policy. This adult child does not have to be a student, must not be eligible for other coverage, and must either work or reside in the state.

Florida, New Mexico and Washington also have extended insurance coverage to adults who are not students up to age 25. In Florida, a provision is available to extend that coverage until the children reach age 30.

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