Young Graduates Worst Off Among the Uninsured

TUCSON, Ariz.

Congratulations, Shannon Tighe. You are a University of Arizona graduate. But you have no medical insurance.

Tighe is one of the many newly independent high school and college graduates who are without health insurance.

“Each year, millions of students graduate from high school and college, and, for the most part, many don’t realize and their parents don’t realize they become one of America’s largest groups of uninsured,” said Ellen Laden, public relations director of Golden Rule Insurance Co., based in Indianapolis.

The most recent report on Arizona’s uninsured showed that 266,800 people ages 19 to 29 have no medical coverage. That’s nearly 30 percent of that age group, and it represents the highest rate among all age groups, according to Families USA, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group based in Washington, D.C.

Tighe had been covered by her parents’ insurance since she was a child, “but as soon as you no longer have a transcript to show, you’re off,” said the 22-year-old, who received her sociology degree in May.

The Commonwealth Fund, a private, New York-based foundation, reported last year that young adults are the fastest-growing group of uninsured. Nearly 40 percent of the nation’s college graduates will be uninsured the first year after they leave campus, the foundation found.

And this doesn’t affect only college grads.

The 51 percent of high school graduates nationwide who opt out of attending college will find themselves instantly uninsured, according to the same group. Reasons for lost coverage vary.

Many are late to learn they lose coverage once they are no longer enrolled full time. Others are uninsured after becoming self-employed or taking a job with a probationary period for benefits.

Then there are those who sign up for insurance through their college or university but don’t seek coverage once their plan typically runs out during the summer after graduation.

What’s worse, any number of things could instantly put those former students in tremendous debt, said Kris Kreutz, UA Campus Health Service’s administrative services director.

Insurance is handy, among a slew of other things, when a person needs glasses or contacts, has surgery, is in a wreck, becomes pregnant, has a checkup or requires medication.

But recent changes can help former students avoid the coverage gap.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona last year extended its coverage policy. Now, the age limit for unmarried dependent children who want to remain on their parents’ plan is 29.

But many still don’t know to sign up for insurance or choose not to do it, Kreutz said.

The risk is to end up with a bill for thousands of dollars, which “would be in addition to student loans and anything else,” he said.

“The question is whether or not someone wants to take the risk that could put them in a position where they’re starting their professional life in a financial hole.”

Uninsured people can rely on community health centers or clinics, but other options exist, such as colleges and universities may offer an extension of coverage for recent graduates through the summer and beyond.

Companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, CIGNA Healthcare, Health Net, PacifiCare and UnitedHealthcare are among the companies that offer coverage to individuals.

In Tucson, the University Medical Center’s Uninsured Patient Discount Program gives uninsured and underinsured patients discounts for medical attention, sometimes at 80 percent less. Patients must qualify for the program, and limitations vary.

The Pima Community Access Program partners with hospitals, health centers and physicians to help low-income and uninsured residents find affordable health care.

Unemployed and low-income people and parents may qualify for Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) and KidsCare programs.

The federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA, allows coverage continuation in certain cases.

Short-term health insurance typically lasts several months. In some cases, people may extend the insurance beyond the initial period.

“Short term is for people whose lives are in transition,” said Laden, in Indianapolis, whose company offers policies for one- to six-month periods.

Laden said the coverage is for emergencies, such as broken bones or sudden illness, and that her company has connections with local brokers.

For instance, a Tucson resident in his mid-20s could pay $24 monthly for a Golden Rule policy with a $2,500 deductible, Laden said.

If that person chooses the smallest deductible, $250, the monthly bill would be about $67.

That type of policy is a last resort, Tighe said. For now, she’s interviewing for jobs that offer benefits.

“It’s one of the top things I look for in a job, because I’m sick all the time,” she said.

Tighe also said her temporary position as an administrative assistant with Arts for All means she sometimes comes into contact with children who are sick.

She hopes she’ll remain healthy until she finds a job that offers health insurance.

“I’m just going about life every day and not really focused on not having insurance,” Tighe said. “I don’t think about it half as much as I should, probably because I’m so used to having it. But I’ve got multiple interviews, so hopefully one works out.”

Associated Press



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