Big, Sick Kids

Last week Jennifer 8. Lee of the Times did a great job on a story I covered in the Village Voice about seven months ago and wrote about in Generation Debt: a trend of laws in several states that extend health care coverage to young adults up to age 30 on their parents' plans.
Young people are twice as likely to be uninsured as the population at large.

Personally, I've been lucky to always be able to go to the doctor. However, at age 26, I've had four health care plans in the last five years, through COBRA, a freelance journalists' association, domestic partner coverage from my fiance's job, and finally an employer, which is ending in December. These have ranged widely in their generosity, adequacy and responsiveness, and at times, I've needed help to pay the bills. And the paperwork--forgetaboutit! My fiancee is currently figuring out how he's going to arrange coverage for a two-month gap between school and work.

"The rise of uninsured young adults results from two main economic forces, analysts say. Changes in the workplace mean that fewer jobs now have full benefits, which disproportionately affects the newest workers. In addition, the rising cost of premiums, whether shared with an employer or paid individually, makes insurance less attractive to a relatively healthy population."

Lee and I both made the obvious points that this policy idea is a little infantilizing (as is the phrase "adult children." When did that oxymoron become acceptable?) but that it is providing a useful stopgap for a specific group that is relatively cheap to insure.

Two other points need to be made, however. One is the class implications of such laws. If your parents don't happen to have a solid job with benefits, you're SOL. The other is that policies like these are no more than Band-Aids. The larger trend, as the excellent health research group the Commonwealth Fund recently underlined with a new survey, is declining employer coverage and increased cost to the individual. What we need is comprehensive reform and large-scale risk pooling, not stopgap measures that protect a small, relatively privileged and relatively healthy proportion of the population.