Stateline Story

States Let Adult Kids Keep Insurance Longer

  • August 15, 2007
  • By Daniel C. Vock

West Virginia state Del. Sam Cann (D) has five kids in their 20s, and three had no health insurance shortly after graduating college. That's one reason Cann championed a new state law, signed in April, to let adults under 25 keep their medical coverage under their parents' policies.

Legislatures in at least 11 states - Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Washington and West Virginia - voted this spring to require insurers to let adult children stay on their parents' health insurance, even after the traditional cut-off dates of a child's 18th birthday or college graduation.
That makes 19 states with such laws now, although the specifics vary greatly. New Jersey directs insurers to keep young adults on through their 30th birthday; South Dakota and Rhode Island guarantee coverage for non-students until they're 19.
"It is a low-cost way to cover a large number of that section of our population," Cann said in a telephone interview. In West Virginia, 20,000 young adults could be covered, he said. 
Health insurers, generally, have mounted little resistance to the efforts to cover stay-at-home twenty-somethings, even though the carriers usually oppose state efforts to dictate who can get health coverage and what benefits they receive. 
"If we're talking about kids who are continuing on the policy past the point they're eligible, a lot of insurance companies don't see a gargantuan problem with that," said J.P. Wieske, the director for state affairs at the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, an insurance industry group. 
But carriers do object to laws that let young adults leave their parents' policy and then come back, because the people who return are likely to be expensive patients, Wieske said. 
Adults just setting out on their own are tough to cover because they tend to be in low-paying jobs that they don't keep for very long, making it difficult for them to buy employer-based health insurance. 
In fact, 30 percent of adults between 19 and 29 are uninsured, even though they're cheaper to insure than other adults, according to an analysis by The Commonwealth Fund , a private organization that studies ways to improve the U.S. health system. 
Up to 1.4 million of the 13.3 million of the uninsured adults between19 and 29 could get health insurance if all states let kids keep their parents' insurance until age 23, said Sara Collins, an assistant vice president of The Commonwealth Fund and one of the report's authors. 
A far more controversial move to let states use taxpayer money to cover young adults was tucked into legislation passed by the U.S. House earlier this month. The provision will be one of many sticking points House and Senate negotiators must smooth out to complete a major health care bill by Sept. 30. 
Collins estimates 3.3 million young adults would qualify if Congress allows states to let young adults who are living in poverty sign up for Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). 
That proposal has met fierce opposition from the insurance lobby, which argues that such efforts would shift millions of people from private insurance to taxpayer-funded programs. 
Meanwhile, states have taken other steps to get young adults medical insurance.
Six states - California, Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana and New Jersey - require college students to have health insurance in order to enroll in classes. 
As part of Massachusetts' attempt to sign all of its residents up for health coverage, the Bay State allowed health insurers to sell low-cost, limited-benefit policies tailored for adults ages 19 to 26.
 
Illinois offers extensions for National Guard and Reserve service members who are sent overseas during their college studies. Under a 2005 law, they can get back under their parents' policies when they return.