Kansas City, Mo. – Much of the recently passed federal health reform law won't be implemented for several years. But one measure targeting young adults could take effect as early as next week. That's especially good news for college graduates. But the new change may not be as widespread in Kansas City as in other places.
At the University of Missouri-Kansas City, friends and relatives gather inside the main gymnasium for the College of Arts and Science's commencement ceremony. Lori Wilson is sitting on the bleachers, waiting for her son Logan to receive his degree. She says she's really proud of her son, but would feel a bit better if he had a job lined up.
"He's smart," Wilson says. "He's got computer skills, too."
Wilson says she's also sensitive about her son's insurance situation. Come June, he'll no longer be on her health plan. Logan's healthy, but still, she says insurance is important.
"I don't want him starting out his life if he did get an illness, being bankrupt. And that's not fair to him," says Wilson. "But then I don't want us to be bankrupt trying to save our child. So you have that whole conundrum of possibilities. So you have to have insurance."
Wilson says she's signed Logan up for a private policy, costing more than $450 a month. She says she would have preferred to keep Logan on her plan. But in order to be eligible, he'd have to be a student. Her husband's plan isn't an option, either. At age 25, Logan's too old to be on it.
But that won't be the case for much longer.
Changes to Dependent Rules
The recently passed federal health law requires insurance companies to cover dependents, like Wilson's son, up to the age of 26. Travis Ford is with the Missouri Department of Insurance. He says the new law broadens eligibility in other ways, too.
"Basically it's any adult child," says Ford. "You can be working, you don't have to live at home, so some of the traditional criteria that we think of that defines dependents are not included."
In some situations, children may not be eligible for coverage if they're offered insurance elsewhere, such as through a job.
Still, Ford says a child can even be married and be eligible. A person under the age of 26 doesn't have to be filed as a dependent on a parent's tax return to get coverage, either.
For Jasmine Powell, who just finished her degree at UMKC, all of this is great news. The 21 year old says she's been without insurance since aging out of her parent's plan this past winter.
"It sucks, actually. If it was anything dire, I'd probably just be out of gas or go to the emergency room even though I don't have the money," says Powell. "So I'm definitely excited about the changes and the opportunities I'll be able to have now."
Powell is headed to law school in D.C. this fall, but the change in coverage for her could come as early as next week.
The new law requires any insurance plan that already offers dependent coverage to expand its eligibility this September. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says she's been encouraging companies to make the change before then. During a recent webcast, she said the response so far has been really good.
"We have about 65 of the major insurance companies - all the major ones across the country - said, 'we think this is a good idea, we're going to open up our plans much earlier, so that if you are looking at a college graduation, you don't have to be uninsured and reinsured,'" Sebelius said.
"I don't think you're going to see a mass rush of people wanting to go to their employer, saying, 'hey, I want to put my kids on my plan now because I'm aloud to.' I don't think that's going to happen," says Ron Rowe, Director of small group sales at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City.
Blue Cross is the largest insurer in the city. Like a lot of the main insurers in the area, the company is implementing the change early. Between now and the end of June, their customers can sign up under the new rules. Whether or not a family is able to enroll early also depends on their employer situation.
Rowe says he's not expecting a huge local response because for one, Missouri already has a law requiring insurance plans to cover dependents up to the age of 25, even if they're not in school or listed as a dependent on their parents' tax return.
But even when dependent coverage is available, Rowe says a lot of families aren't using it. The reason, he says, has to do with cost.
"You know, it might be that you're paying nothing to have coverage at work," says Rowe. "But once you want to add kids on your plan, then you're looking at $400 or $500 to add them on your plan at work."
Rowe says a growing number of parents are choosing to put their kids on independent plans over their own insurance because it's oftentimes a lot cheaper.
But he says for those kids who can no longer get coverage through their parents and aren't eligible for an independent plan, the new change will make a big difference.
"For someone who has a health condition that can't get an individual plan, and we know that part of reform doesn't kick in till 2014, where everyone will be offered a plan and no rejections, it's a major deal because those people have no other place to go. So it is a big deal for them," says Rowe.
The new regulations may also open a big window for young adults in Kansas, where there aren't any rules for dependent coverage like there are in Missouri. It also applies to large self-insured employer plans, which aren't regulated by states and don't have to follow laws like Missouri's.
But if kids' parents don't have insurance with a dependent coverage option to begin with, then they're out of luck.
Some Left Out
Adam Felling is graduating from UMKC with a degree in philosophy and American studies. He says he doesn't have any insurance options despite the new rule.
"Neither of my parents actually have health insurance that would cover me right now, and due to some previous health issues, to get health insurance for myself would be really expensive, like $600 or $700 a month," Felling says. "So I'm just going to be uninsured for a while till I get back in school or get job where I can get health insurance through them. I'm just going to rough it a while in future."
Felling says he found out earlier this year that he has a rare lung disease. He says flare-ups are extremely rare, but as a result, he's no longer eligible for independent health coverage regardless of the cost situation. Still, Felling says he's not really thinking much about that at the moment.
"I'm feeling great about graduation," says Felling. "You know, I'm excited to go to Europe this summer. The exitement's definitely about the prospects of my future, outweighing some of the negatives of paying back student loans, and worrying about health insurance, and worrying about some of the other things that you take for granted when your parents are paying for it. I'm ready to be an adult and out in the world and face those challenges on my own."
According to Secretary Sebelius, as many as 1.2 million people nationwide could be affected by the new rule. She says that's especially good news because currently, young adults are more likely to be uninsured than older adults or children. The Department of Health and Human Services also estimates the change will raise insurance premiums by a little under 1%. HHS says that's because by and large, young adults tend to be healthier and bring down the costs of insurance plans.
Inside the gym at UMKC, student Nacente Seabury says she has a lot of friends graduating today. At age 20 and still on her mother's plan, Seabury says the new change won't directly affect her anytime soon. But she says it still means a lot to her.
"I just remember the night the law was passed and signed, I called my mother and was so excited," says Seabury. "Now, I didn't feel like I have to pick something and stick with it to get done as fast as can with school. Now, I have more options with what want to do with my life."
Seabury says for now, she's thinking about grad school or law school. But regardless of whether or not she decides to continue school, the new federal change that goes into effect in the next few months means she'll now still be able to have health insurance once she graduates.
Funding for health care coverage on KCUR has been provided by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.
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