Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

June 4,  2007  



States expanding health care for young singles

By Thomas F. Coleman

One year ago, I wrote a column entitled "Turning 19 can be hazardous to your health."  The column explained that millions of young single adults lack health insurance because they can't afford it and because insurers drop them from their parents' policies when they turn 19 unless they are full-time college students.

A report issued last year by the Commonwealth Fund disclosed that about 14 million Americans between the ages of 19 and 29 were uninsured in 2004, up 2.5 million from just four years earlier.  Nearly 40 percent of 19 to 23 year-olds who do not attend college lack coverage, usually because they have been dropped as dependents from their parents health plan at work. 

As of June 2006, only a few states had passed laws requiring state-regulated health plans to continue coverage for several years beyond 18, regardless of the educational status of a dependent.  New Jersey, Colorado, Massachusetts, Utah, and New Mexico were among the first states to extend the age at which dependent coverage may be terminated.

In Utah and New Mexico, dependents are covered until their 26th birthday, regardless of whether they are enrolled in school.  A New Jersey law allows dependents up to age 30 to remain on their parents' plans, although companies may charge more for such coverage.

Colorado residents up to age 25 now can be covered under their parents' plans if they are unmarried, financially dependent on their parents, or living with them.

In the past few months, the number of states tackling this problem has grown, with similar laws having been enacted in Montana, Washington, Maine, and New York.  Such a law may receive final approval by the New Hampshire Legislature this week.

Two months ago, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed a bill to allow parents to keep their unmarried children covered under their health insurance policies until the age of 25, even if their child is no longer a student. 

The bill's sponsor, Montana Senator Greg Lind told the Missoulian newspaper that "raising the age limit for dependent coverage from 23 to 25 and eliminating the full-time student requirement will ensure that Montana's insurance laws better reflect the realities of the world in which we live.

Last month, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a similar measure into law.  Now, all insurance carriers and state employee programs in Washington must allow working parents an opportunity to extend coverage for unmarried children up to age 25.

Three weeks ago, Maine Gov. John Baldacci signed into law a bill that extends coverage to unmarried dependent adult children up to age 25 through their parents' policies by mandating that insurers include it as an available product for employers to offer.

A new law was enacted in New York several weeks ago which authorizes health insurance companies to keep covering a family's children under a family policy until those children reach age 25, provided that the child is still living at home.  Under current law, a child over the age of 19 must be dropped from a family's health insurance coverage unless that child is in college or is mentally incapable of self-sustaining employment.

Meanwhile, the idea of insuring more unmarried adult children has caught the attention of lawmakers and businesses in Texas -- the state with the highest rate of residents lacking health insurance. 

Texas Gov. Rick Perry proclaimed April 23-29 as Cover the Uninsured Week as a way of calling attention to the health insurance crisis in the Lone Star State.  The Texas Hospital Association chimed in by urging lawmakers to take concrete steps to solve the problem.

Rep. Garnet Coleman and Sen. Kip Averitt accepted the challenge by sponsoring legislation requiring health care benefit plans to allow unmarried children of any age to be covered under a parent's or grandparent's health insurance policy or plan if the cost of the premium is paid.

So the political movement to secure health care for young unmarried singles is gaining momentum. 

Last year, the issue was barely on the nation's political radar screen.  Last week, Presidential contender Barack Obama mentioned health care for twenty-something singles in a health care reform plan he unveiled during a speech in New Hampshire.

What a difference a year makes.

To read other editions of Column One, click here.

Unmarried America 2007

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.