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United, Wellpoint to Keep Young Adults Covered Before Overhaul Law Says They Must

By John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat Editor

April 19, 2010 -- Two of the nation's biggest health insurers, UnitedHealthcare and Wellpoint, announced Monday they will allow young men and women who otherwise would lose coverage in coming weeks to stay on their parents' health plans.

Under the new overhaul law (PL 111-148), insurers must allow young adults to stay on their parents' plan until age 26. However, that provision doesn't take effect until Sept. 23, 2010.

UnitedHealth Group, the corporate parent of UnitedHealthcare, said some college students ordinarily would have to come off their parents UnitedHealthcare plan in coming weeks when they graduate. But "we want students to graduate into a secure future, not the ranks of the uninsured, so we are working with employers to make sure these young adults have health coverage available to them ahead of the new requirements," said Gail Boudreaux, president of UnitedHealthcare.

The move is "another tangible step we are taking to help translate the new, complex health reform directives into workable reality," she added.

Wellpoint said in its announcement that "each year in June, many individuals are no longer eligible as dependents on their parents' insurance policies because of their age, student status or other factors." The insurer added that "as a proactive measure, its plans starting June 1 will automatically retain these young individuals on their parents' policies in both fully insured group and individual health plans. Our self-insured clients and members will have the option of not offering this extended coverage."

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement that "we are encouraged by the actions of Wellpoint, UnitedHealthcare and other companies to bridge the gap." Sebelius noted that HHS also is asking other insurers to follow suit.

A Sebelius letter sent Monday to other major insurers said there would be substantial benefits for avoiding a scenario in which college students and young adults not in college were disenrolled and then re-enrolled Sept. 23.

Keeping them in their plans without that happening "would enable young, overwhelmingly healthy people, who will not engender large health care costs, to stay in the insurance pool and retain important insurance coverage," Sebelius wrote. "Taking this step will also save money for your companies by avoiding the administrative costs of disenrolling and then re-enrolling young adults." It also is "good business and will offer relief to grateful families across country."

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