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Perils of Youth: Losing Parents' Coverage

For three years now, Commonwealth Fund researchers have been tracking a disturbing trend: young adults, ages 19 to 29, are one of the largest and fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population without health insurance. In 2004, 13.7 million young adults lacked coverage, an increase of 2.5 million since 2000.

In the newly updated report, Rite of Passage? Why Young Adults Become Uninsured and How New Policies Can Help, Fund assistant vice president Sara R. Collins, Ph.D., and colleagues assess the scope of the problem, evaluate its causes, and suggest targeted policies to help young adults stay insured as they make the transition to independent living.

Young adults often lose coverage under their parents' policies, Medicaid, or the State Children's Health Insurance Program at age 19, or when they graduate from high school or college. Nearly two of five college graduates and one-half of high school graduates who do not go on to college will be uninsured for some period during the first year following graduation, according to the Fund report. Moving on and off coverage places the health of young adults at risk and subjects them and their families to financial stress just as they are starting out in the workforce.

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Three policy changes could extend coverage to uninsured young adults and prevent others from losing it: extending eligibility for public insurance programs beyond age 18; extending dependents' eligibility for private coverage beyond age 18 or 19, regardless of student status; and requiring colleges and universities to offer coverage to all students.

In recent years, several states, including Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah, have extended the age of dependency for private health coverage up to 26. Starting this spring, New Jersey began requiring all health insurers in the state to raise the age limit of dependents eligible for coverage under their parents' plan to 30--the highest in the nation.

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