© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

In health care proposals, young people find a lifeline

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 30, 2009 - It’s hardly making headlines in reports about the health care bills making their way through Congress, but people in their early 20s could soon find it much easier to retain coverage.

That’s because measures in the House and Senate would require insurers to allow young people to stay on their parents’ health care policies. Legislation approved by the Senate health committee this summer included a provision that all group and individual coverage policies must continue dependent coverage for children through age 25. A plan introduced by House leaders on Thursday also included that guarantee for children under 27.

As is stands, states determine the age at which young adults can no longer be covered by their parents’ insurance. A growing number of states have passed laws to expand coverage of dependents up to age 24 or 25 under parents' insurance policies. Utah became the first state in 1994 to pass a law that allows unmarried dependents to keep coverage until they are 26, regardless of school enrollment status. This week, Wisconsin became the latest state to announce that parents will soon have the option of placing children under 27 on their insurance plans, even if they are not students.

An Illinois provision allows people who served in active duty in the U.S. Armed Services between the ages of 19 and 23 to retain their dependent status for the amount of time they served until they are 25 so long as they are a full-time student.

In Missouri, insurers can elect to cover dependents through college or make the cut-off age earlier. But they must extend dependent coverage until age 25 if a consumer so asks, Travis Ford, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration, told me for a story I wrote earlier this year on young people who don't have health coverage. The rule applies to state residents who aren't married or covered by another health plan. The state also requires health maintenance organizations with coverage of a dependent child that would otherwise end sooner to continue it until age 25, while the dependent remains unmarried and "incapable of self-sustained employment by reason of mental or physical handicap and chiefly dependent upon the enrollee for support and maintenance."

Research shows that roughly 30 percent of people in their 20s don’t have health insurance -- more than any other age group. That amounts to more than 13.2 million people between 19 an 29 who are without coverage, according to figures from the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit research foundation. Nearly 60 percent of group plans obtained through employers only insure adult dependent children who are students, according to the Commonwealth Fund study. Many children lose coverage when they turn 19 or finish college.

And many people in their 20s are no longer in school or are enrolled only part time. Some are unemployed or have jobs that don't offer health coverage. And others decide they can't afford paying for individual coverage -- or don't think they need coverage because they are young and healthy.  

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.