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Medical Insurance for Adolescents and Young Adults

Angela Oswalt, MSW, edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Another medical topic that can overwhelm just about anyone, including older adolescents, is medical insurance coverage. Some youth have several options to choose from, while others have very few options. Youth who are working full-time at a job that is benefits-eligible can choose to sign up for, and to pay for their own medical coverage. Parents should talk with their youth and help them figure out what coverage choices are best for them. If youth are thinking about skipping health coverage or do not seem to be acting quickly enough to sign up during open enrollment periods, parents should once again use the problem-solving, open dialogue approach to talking about the pros and cons of obtaining or forgoing health insurance. Most youth do not have a realistic understanding of medical costs so it may seem like a huge costs savings to skip health insurance, particularly when they are just barely able to make ends meet. But parents can help their young adults understand the enormous financial debt that can occur for even small accidents or injuries. A broken finger, or a cut or injury requiring a few stitches, can literally cost thousands of dollars for emergency room care.

If youth are not working a job that has medical benefits available, but their parents receive health insurance benefits through their employers, youth can still be covered under their parents' health insurance plan until age 26. Due to the new health care reform law passed in 2009, youth are permitted to be covered under their parents' coverage. Previously youth could only be covered under parents' policies if they were full-time students, resided with their parents, or were listed as dependents on a parent's tax return. Once again, however, parents should educate their youth about the rules of the coverage and educate them how to use the coverage. Parents also need to negotiate with their youth how costs like deductibles, co-pays, and other financial responsibilities will be handled. Parents and youth should decide whether these costs will be paid by the parents, the youth, or a combination of both.

If youth don't have insurance through their own employer or through their parents' employer but are full-time students, they may be able to enroll in health coverage for students at their college. In fact, many colleges and universities require that youth either provide proof insurance coverage or buy coverage through a college plan. Once again, parents can help youth figure out how to pay for their premiums, co-pays, and other costs through work earnings, allowances from parents, portions of their student loans, or a combination of the above.

Lastly, some youth may not be going to college full-time, may not be eligible for health insurance through work, or may not be able to get insurance through their parents. These youth may want to look into other options such as state-run Medicaid programs or insurance-buying pools in their state. These programs were also greatly expanded due to the healthcare reform law passed in 2009. Each state will have different rules, eligibility standards, and enrollment requirements. Youth should contact their local Department of Job and Family Services to learn more about the options available to them in their home state or go to www.healthcare.gov to research more options.