Health insurance a needed concern

After a summer of carefree fun, it’s time for students at UW-Eau Claire to get back to work. Or, at least, to start looking for work. But with hard economic times, many young people – even those who have been out of school for a while – are finding that getting a job is hard work.

Often the last thing on the minds of the young and seemingly invincible who are searching for employment is health insurance. Yet, no matter how important everything else may seem, there is no question that health insurance should be a top priority.

What actually happens after the excitement of graduation when young adults realize they may no longer be covered by their parents’ health plans? All too often the answer is that many of them join the ranks of America’s uninsured.

Unfortunately, some also will find that their perceived invincibility isn’t enough to pay for unforeseen medical bills from an accident, illness or emergency that can quickly drain a small or non-existent bank account.

A national study just released found that more than half of all young people have gone without health insurance at some point in the past five years – including 75 percent of those who are now carrying medical debt.

In fact, young adults are among the largest and fastest-growing groups of Americans lacking health insurance today.

According to 2006 Census Bureau data, nearly 30 percent of 18 to 24 year olds have no health insurance. If you factor in the Americans age 25 to 34 who also are without health insurance, young adults represent more than 40 percent of America’s uninsured population.

Reducing the number of young uninsured Americans has become a priority in the halls of Congress, on the presidential campaign trail and in state legislatures.

Over the past few years, a number of states have extended the age that dependents can remain on their parents’ health plans as a way to address this issue. At UnitedHealthcare’s Golden Rule Insurance Company, for example, we allow dependents to stay on their parents’ plans until they reach 26 years of age in all the markets we serve.

Another solution to address the gaps in coverage for recent graduates is short term health insurance. Short term health insurance offers one to six months of coverage, and can be a lower cost alternative for new graduates as well as workers between jobs and seniors with just a few months before Medicare eligibility.

Short-term health insurance is designed to be an easily understood plan with a quick, simplified application process. There’s also the flexibility to drop the plan at any time without penalty which is important when your life is in a period of transition and change.

The reality today is that no one can afford to be without health insurance coverage and there are choices in the marketplace. Certainly, the last thing a recent Eau Claire graduate with limited income needs is to be saddled with medical debt before he or she even has a chance to get on solid financial ground.

Arnone is president and CEO of UnitedHealthcare in Wisconsin and guest columnist for The Spectator.