Graduation strips health coverage away
April 1, 2009 8:43 PM
When Oswald Garcia graduates this May, his new diploma symbolizing the kick-off to adulthood will also strip him from the protection he needs most in the real world -- health coverage.
Under Garcia's parents' employee benefits, his health is covered as long as he is a full-time student and under the age of 24. Once he graduates, the coverage will stop.
"It's scary because you don't know what's going to happen," said the 21-year-old.
"Anything can happen."
Young adults represent one of the largest and fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population without health insurance, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a non-profit focusing on health care.
The U.S. Census Bureau said in 2007 there were 28.1 percent of uninsured young adults ages 18-24.
There are a few reasons this youthful group is likely to be uninsured.
"A week ago, I was very sick with a cold two times within a two-week period," said Brian Lee, a 19-year-old history major. "I wanted to go to the hospital to see what was up, but I didn't want to face a huge bill from visiting the hospital."
With complications to his financial terms with his health care provider due to being considered an independent, Lee was cut off from his parents' health coverage.
Nearly 60 percent of companies offering health insurance do not include dependent children once they turn 18 or 19 unless they attend college, according to The Fund. In addition, the coverage gained through a parent's employer-based policy or a student health plan by being a full-time student is lost upon graduation.
Government plans such as Medicaid are only available to certain low-income individuals and families who fit an eligibility group recognized by federal and state law. The government believes those who are students choose to be students which hinder eligibility, said Marian Yee, an SF State health educator.
"It's unfair because it's like the youth are punished for being students," she said.
"It's a fact," Angelo said. "And then you just think 'Eh, I don't need it.' But it's risky."
"I understand it's really bad for me to not have it, but I can't afford to have private insurance because it's several hundred dollars a month," he said.
When Mohammed does want to learn more about particular coverage, frustration overcomes him as he tries to understand the language of health insurance.
"I consider myself a pretty smart person, but it's complicated for me to understand what kind of insurance I have when they send five to six pages of mail and I have no idea what they're saying in them," Mohammed said. "For young adults coming off health insurance, there needs to be some simple way to know what to do. It should be as easy as a Facebook site."
According to Angelo, eHealthInsurance.com is one helpful site that can be used as a tool to help compare health insurance quotes for better understanding.
"Instead of irrelevant freshmen classes like Greek mythology, schools should have a two-week class in getting students situated about health care," Mohammed suggested.
"Teach them how to understand health care and manage their health."
No insurance? Here's where to go when...
•You have a toothache -- The Berkeley Free Clinic provides free simple extractions, fillings and cleanings. The service takes new patients on a drop-in lottery basis only. Also, University of California, San Francisco's School of Dentistry provides patient care for roughly half the normal cost of a private dental office.
•You need drugs -- The Berkeley Free Clinic also provides a large supply of pharmaceuticals and is open for general medical services in the evenings Monday through Friday. SF State's own Student Health Center offers free basic services and has about 400 medications available. Over-the-counter drugs are as low as $3.
•You need birth control -- SF State Student Health Service's Family PACT offers free birth control, morning-after pills, urine pregnancy test, STI testing and treatment and annual exams to eligible California residents.
•You have an emergency -- SF State's SHS recommends facilities with sliding scale payment plans. With a sliding scale, those who earn less will pay less and those who earn more will pay more, according to Healthy San Francisco, a program designed to make health care services accessible and affordable. Haight Ashbury Free Clinic and San Francisco General Urgent Care Clinic have a sliding scale. Women's Community Clinic is free and accepts donations from those without insurance.
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