Md. Insurance Law Draws Praise From Young Adults

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 2, 2008

University of Maryland sophomore Laura Calabrese is not certain what she wants to do when she graduates in two years. But she is thankful that because of recent changes in state law, she'll be able to stay on her parents' health insurance until she is 25, allowing her to consider a volunteer or low-paid position that might not offer benefits.

"This definitely opens my options," said the 20-year-old from Laurel.

Calabrese joined other college students, as well as Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery) and Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Anne Arundel), at the University of Maryland student center yesterday to tout the change in state law, which went into effect in January.

Previously, young adults dropped off their parents' insurance policies at age 19. In some cases, full-time students could stay on until 23.

Under the new law, many young people will be able to stay on their parents' health plans until age 25. The change affects state employees as well as many employees of local governments and large private businesses.

Some, such as those whose parents work for the federal government or for small businesses, are not eligible, but the advocates said they hope eventually to expand the coverage.

Almost one-third of Marylanders ages 19 to 29 are uninsured, and an estimated 100,000 of Maryland's 700,000 to 800,000 uninsured residents are ages 21 to 25.

Until the law was changed, high school and college students underwent a "dangerous rite of passage" in losing their insurance after graduation, Mizeur said.

"We want to send out a really strong message: You don't have to become uninsured because you're walking across the stage to receive a diploma," she said.

She rejected the idea that young adults forgo insurance by choice, noting that recent studies show that most enroll in insurance when an employer offers it.

"Contrary to popular wisdom, these aren't all 'young invincibles' we're talking about," she said.

She said expanding the number of young adults in the insurance pool could help bring down costs for everyone by adding healthy premium payers who use few expensive services.

The group timed its news conference to coincide with national Cover the Uninsured Week, as well as the open enrollment period for state employees. Mizeur and Rosapepe urged workers to put their young adult children back on their health plans.

They said they would hold more news conferences to highlight other recent changes in state law that were also designed to reduce the ranks of the uninsured, including an expansion of Medicaid to working low-income adults and new dental benefits for children.

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, said the changes mean that the state is finally moving in the right direction on health care expansion.

"In the past, this week's always been about what we haven't accomplished," DeMarco said. "This is the first time we're celebrating what we've done. We've made significant strides in covering the uninsured."

It's not clear how many young adults will benefit from the ability to stay on their parents' insurance until they are 25, the advocates said, but they predicted that the number will be in the thousands.

U-Md. junior Nizar Dowla said he believes the change could help him. He plans to go to medical school after graduation and will be able to stay on an insurance plan provided to his father, a professor at the public St. Mary's College.

"We're being thrown into the real world," Dowla said. "It's one less thing to worry about."

Rosapepe said the change could be even more beneficial to high school students who do not plan to attend college, many of whom lost insurance at age 19 in the past.

"This is a very significant expansion," he said.

Also on hand was U-Md. student body president Andrew M. Friedson, who said he believes young people would enroll in health insurance if it was more readily available.

"This isn't an issue of young students not caring," he said. "It's a matter of not having proper access to do it."

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