Graduation season is here, and many parents and grandparents are proudly celebrating the accomplishments of the students in their families. In past years, however, these celebrations often were marred by the realization that graduation had a down side: These new graduates would lose access to their parents' health insurance plans.
Losing this coverage meant that many young adults ended up uninsured. The jobs they were offered didn't provide health insurance benefits. (And those were the lucky ones who could find a job at all in this economy.) Some tried instead to buy coverage directly from an insurance company, but found the costs to be prohibitive. Others found coverage directly from an insurer, but the only policies they could afford didn't cover the services they needed - services that had been covered under their parents' health plan.
It was enough to put a damper on graduation excitement. But this year, thanks to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the new health care law), there's no need to stop the festivities.
Under the Affordable Care Act, young adults can stay on their parents' health insurance plans until they turn 26 years old, whether or not they are still students. This is true whether their parents' insurance comes from a job or directly from an insurance company. It's also true even if young adults are married, live in a different state than their parents, or are no longer financially dependent on their parents (although if young adults have their own offer of coverage through their job, they might not be able to stay on their parents' plans).
The effect of this new protection for young adults has been incredible: Major health insurance companies report that at least 600,000 young adults have joined their parents' health plans since this part of the Affordable Care Act took effect.
So why does this matter to you? As your grandkids celebrate their graduations, you can help make sure that they are aware of the new option to stay covered on their parents' health plans. If your grandkids have already left their parents' plans, but are still younger than 26, they can get back on. Also, if your grandkids are still in college, but need better health insurance than what is offered through their school, you can encourage them to look into their parents' plans. During busy and exciting times, young adults may not be prioritizing their health coverage needs, so having a grandparent or parent looking out for them can make a big difference.
Also, it's important to remember that we all benefit when more people are covered with health insurance. That's because when people don't have coverage, we all pay the price. The costs of care for people without insurance are passed on in the form of higher insurance premiums to those of us who do have coverage. Getting everyone covered keeps costs down.
For more information, the U.S. Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration at 866-444-EBSA (3272), call the state's insurance department or visit www.familiesusa. org and search for "coverage for young adults."
Pollack is executive director of Families USA.