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Graduates often join ranks of uninsured
Graduation season means lots of young adults are now uninsured

 Graduates often can't stay on parents' health plans.
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Date published: 5/10/2009


It's college graduation season, and that means lots of recent graduates are about to be uninsured.

Young adults can usually stay on their parents' insurance plans until they're 23, as long as they're enrolled full time in classes. But graduate, or stop taking classes, and the coverage often ends.

"Most of them end up uninsured pretty quick," said Jeff Rainville, an insurance provider and owner of The Rainville Agency in Spotsylvania County.

New college grads should check their insurance status. If they've been bumped off their parents' plan, they should get their own coverage without delay, Rainville said.

"Unfortunately, a lot of these kids just think they're never going to get sick," Rainville said. "But all it takes is one accident."

A single visit to the emergency room easily can cost more than six months' worth of insurance coverage, Rainville said.

A healthy 21-year-old can get a six-month, short-term policy for about $300 total, Rainville said. Or, that same 21-year-old can buy a high deductible plan for about $75 a month that ends only when he or she cancels it. (Prices can vary depending on age, health, gender and insurance carrier.)

The average emergency room visit costs $1,049, according to Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield. And that's the cost for people with non-emergency medical problems--things like sinus infections, not shattered bones or a ruptured appendix.

Being uninsured doesn't just put people at risk of facing high medical bills, Rainville cautions. It also puts them at risk of having problems getting insurance later on.

A person who suffers a serious back injury, for instance, will have a tough time finding affordable coverage, Rainville said. Insurers charge higher fees for people with a multitude of pre-existing conditions.

"If you get sick, getting health insurance at a reasonable price is very difficult," Rainville said. "If you get pregnant, you can forget it. You can't get it if you're pregnant."

Employer-based coverage is the exception. Prices don't rise for employees based on their health (with some exceptions, such as some employers charging higher premiums for smokers).

Many graduates hope to catch on quickly with an employer who provides health benefits. But the job market is tough, and even employers offering coverage often provide it only after a wait, typically of three months.

Rainville's advice: Get coverage now. He prefers to steer young adults to high-deductible policies that people can keep permanently or cancel when they get other coverage. That way, if they get sick or injured, they aren't at risk of losing their insurance.

Short-term policies also are popular because they're relatively cheap. But the risk is that if a person gets hurt or sick, it will be harder to find other coverage when the short-term policy ends.

A leading insurance Web site, ehealthinsurance.com, also advises new graduates to consider both high-deductible polices and short-term polices. And it tells students that insurance rates vary depending on location. So, as grads contemplate where to settle down, it's wise to keep in mind that insurance is cheaper in some states than in others.

Janet Marshall: 540/374-5527
Email: jmarshall@freelancestar.com

Insurance provider Web sites can help you scope out your options, but it's wise to talk with an insurance agent before buying a policy. An agent can make sure you understand the terms of different plans and help you figure out your needs.

To check out your options, try these sites: