Policies expire for grads

Many graduates lose health insurance, because they are no longer full-time students.

Naomi Scott

When Lisa Johnson graduates in May, she will no longer be covered under her parents’ health-insurance plan.

The psychology senior said her parents are looking for a transition plan that would cover her until she enters graduate school in 2006, at which time she could go back under her parents’ policy as a full-time student.

Like Johnson, many college students will lose their health insurance when they graduate, because children can only stay under their parents’ policies or a school-sponsored plan while they are full-time students. Even if a graduate does find a job with benefits, those benefits can take awhile to kick in.

If graduating seniors are covered under Boynton Health Service’s student-health benefits plan, they can continue to have coverage through the summer after they graduate.

Ed Ehlinger, Boynton Health Service director, said it encourages students to take advantage of the student-health benefits plan before they graduate.

“At least (the plan) carries them through the summer,” he said.

Sue Jackson, Boynton Health Service’s student-health benefits director, said the plan is not as beneficial to students who graduate in December because they are only granted one extra month of coverage.

Once the University’s student-health benefits plan expires, there are not many good choices for insurance for those without secure jobs, Jackson said.

“There are some options,” she said. “But they’re just not as good as finding a job with health benefits as a part of the employment ticket.”

The state’s MinnesotaCare program is one option, but income restrictions apply, and to qualify, a person must have gone without insurance for at least four months, Jackson said.

Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association insurance is available for uninsured people who have health issues that prohibit them from buying insurance, she said.

Cheryl Froland, director of small-group sales and agency relations at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, said the 1986 federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act allows children to be covered independently under their parents’ group policy for up to 36 months.

Because they cannot claim themselves as dependents of parents anymore, this can be an expensive option for recent graduates, Froland said.

Students should do much planning when purchasing individual insurance, she said.

“If (college graduates) think they’ll go off on their own and they want to consider buying an individual policy, they should plan ahead,” she said.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota offers a short-term plan called Insta-Care that is useful to those in transition between jobs, group plans or just out of college.

Insta-Care can be purchased in 30-, 60- or 90-day periods but does not cover any pre-existing health conditions, Froland said.

“If you’re young and healthy, it’s a really good choice,” she said.

Despite insurance options, a study by the Commonwealth Fund reported that in 2003, approximately 40 percent of new college graduates remained without health insurance for at least several months after graduation.

Ehlinger said that in addition to not being covered under their parents’ plans anymore, some graduates do not find employment right away, and even if they do, the job’s health benefits might not take effect immediately. Also, more employers are not offering health insurance, he said.

Ehlinger said that if someone does not have health insurance, he or she is taking a big risk. A day in the hospital can cost thousands of dollars, he said.

“One of the major reasons for bankruptcy is health-care costs,” he said.

Also, people without health insurance typically do not take advantage of preventive services such as blood pressure screenings, mammograms and cholesterol checks, Ehlinger said.

He said he advocates a single-payer health-insurance plan, which means insurance access is based solely on the fact that a person lives in the United States, rather than employment status.