Health care shopping tips - what to look out for as a college grad
Once their campus coverage expires either upon graduating or at the end of the summer in most cases, young people who haven't landed jobs with health benefits typically have limited choices: Stay on their parents' health plan if possible, buy a standard or temporary policy in the individual market or assume the significant financial risk of going uninsured.
"The first thing you need to convince young people of is they really, really need health insurance because they feel quite invincible," said Nancy Metcalf, a health editor at Consumer Reports in Yonkers, N.Y. "Often times if they don't have it through a job, they'll think 'I run everyday, I'm a vegetarian, whatever.'"
"Even if you're a careful driver, the best driver in world, you have car insurance because something can still happen. It's the same thing with your body," Metcalf said. "Health care is way more expensive than buying a car."
The message is equally important for parents. They can play a major role in helping kids get coverage and may have as much to lose if they don't get it, said Karen Pollitz, project director for Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute in Washington.
"If something horrible happened to your child and you didn't have insurance, you'd probably mortgage your house to make sure they were cared for," she said.
Young people make up a sizable and growing portion of the nation's 46 million uninsured. Nearly 14 million young adults age 19 to 29 lacked coverage in 2006, according to a study from the Commonwealth Fund. A third of college graduates and 38% of high-school graduates who don't go on to college are uninsured for part of the first year after graduation.
Here's what to do if you're about to lose coverage, according to consumer experts:
1. Stay on your parent's employer group plan for as long as possible. Check with your state insurance department to see if your state enables young people to stay on their parents' plans later into their twenties. About half of states allow health plans to continue to cover childless, financially dependent children until they are 24, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Florida and New Jersey allow them to stay on up to age 30.
2. Don't jump into the individual market right away if you can avoid it. "If you can stay on some kind of group coverage you're much better off because the individual market in most states is a place you don't want to be. It's OK if you're healthy. But the minute you start to get something like migraines or hay fever you start to get in real trouble." Pollitz agreed. "You might be able to find inexpensive coverage as a young adult, but the individual market tends to provide flimsy benefits," she said. "It tends to leave out important services or caps them. It's medically underwritten so you might get turned down even for something really simple like acne."
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