Womens Health

Health Reform for the Young and Unemployed

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by Lisa Pearlstein, Intern,
National Women's Law Center

These are terrible economic times for new graduates. I will be graduating from law school this May, and unlike previous years, a significant portion of my class will be entering the “real world” without a job and without health insurance. This week, President Obama slightly released some tension from my shoulders when he signed the health reform bill, which requires insurance plans that offer dependent coverage to allow young adults to remain on their parents’ plan until they are 26 years old. Fortunately, this is a benefit we can expect to see within the next six months. 

This provision is vital because young adults account for the largest age group of uninsured Americans.  States require insurance companies to cover children on their parents’ policy up to a certain age, but this age varies widely among states and a whole host of requirements apply. Even if a young adult is employed, coverage is far from guaranteed because entry-level and part-time jobs often do not offer health benefits. Most young adults covered through public programs like Medicaid or SCHIP loose their coverage when they turn 19 years old. 

Young, unmarried women are particularly vulnerable. Young women are often charged higher premiums and they may face higher out-of-pocket costs or have a greater risk of being underinsured because they are more likely to have chronic health issues and more routine health care needs.

While it is clear that this extension of coverage is necessary, certain restrictions to the dependent extension apply. Employer based plans in existence on March 23, 2010 must only offer the extension to young adults who do not have an employer offer of coverage. Even if a young adult can receive coverage under her parents’ plan, the parents’ insurer does not have to make coverage available for any children of that young adult. And of course, insurance companies may still charge for the coverage extension, and the price for coverage may not be cheap.

In short, while this provision does not permit all young adults to remain on their parents’ coverage, it does give many of us one less thing to worry about when facing an uncertain future. And in this economy, that is something I can truly appreciate.

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