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Monday, February 26, 2024

Post-graduation health insurance choices worry college students

Fall semester marks the final stretch of a four-and-a-half-year journey for Adrianna Rodriguez, a UF senior who will graduate in December. On graduation day, she will walk across the stage, shake the hands of beaming administrators and collect diplomas in history and journalism.

Although she looks forward to a new chapter in her life, Rodriguez, 22, fears that when she is dropped from her parents' health insurance after graduation, she will join the ranks of young and uninsured Americans.

In the first half of 2006, nearly 35 percent of 19- to 24-year-olds were without health insurance, according to a June 2007 report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

"My concern is that I've always been lucky and blessed to have health insurance," Rodriguez said. "But it's going to be really hard to pay for it by myself because it's difficult to find a job that offers health insurance benefits anymore."

Raised in the information age, young adults like Rodriguez are uniquely positioned to navigate the workplace. But with the world at their fingertips, these young adults are still at the greatest risk of being uninsured.

Health Insurance Dilemma

The cutting-edge technology that has produced life-saving medical advances and top-of-the-line pharmaceuticals has contributed to soaring health care costs. And new graduates are among the workers shouldering the costs as they enter the workforce.

Rachel Greenfield / Alligator Staff

Employers, hard-pressed to cover rising health insurance premiums, have shifted the burden of the cost to their employees, said W. Bruce Vogel, a health care economist and associate professor in the department of epidemiology and health policy research at UF's College of Medicine. Some companies, especially smaller ones, are dropping coverage all together.

Many young people, who typically have smaller salaries, are unable to afford their portion of the cost and go without, Vogel said. Those who aren't offered employee-based coverage are left to shop for policies in the pricey individual market, he said.

Many Opt Out of Insurance

The rising cost of health insurance may not be the only reason why so many young Americans are uninsured.

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Many choose to forego health insurance benefits in favor of higher wages because they are younger and thought to be healthier, Vogel said.

"Going without health insurance at a young age is running a risk, but it's not the same risk as if you were 45," he said.

Wayne Wallace, director of the Career Resource Center at UF, said the students he sees are typically more concerned with salary, location and job satisfaction than whether they are offered health benefits. He said young people would often rather spend the money on other things.

"It's just not something they think about at age 23," Wallace said. "They don't think about how important it is until something happens, and it's too late."

Going without health insurance post-graduation may be nothing new for some UF students.

Roughly 20 percent of UF students reported not having health insurance when a survey was taken a few years ago, said Dr. Phillip Barkley, director of the Student Health Care Center.

Barkley said that number might have decreased since UF introduced GatorGradCare, a health plan that covers graduate students on teaching, research and graduate assistantships. The plan was started in January, according to the UF Human Resource Services Web site.

It is common for younger students to be on their parents' plans, but as they get older they are more likely to be dropped, he said.

UF students are currently not required to carry health insurance, though it is available for purchase through Scarborough Company Insurance Inc.

Risky Business

Opting out of health insurance may pose major risks for young Americans.

Young adulthood is a high-risk period for unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, substance abuse and injuries, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Additionally, an increasing number of young adults have chronic medical conditions, the report stated.

"A catastrophic medical event can be financially devastating for young people without insurance," Barkley said. "Anything that can cause hospitalization is going to be extremely expensive."

Light at the end of the tunnel

There might be light at the end of the tunnel for uninsured students and recent graduates.

Low-risk policies called catastrophic health insurance plans are available for people in good health.

These plans might not cover doctors' visits but provide coverage in the event of a major medical procedure.

A healthy young person could find a plan for as low as ,60 to ,80 dollars a month with a ,1,000 to ,2,000 deductible, said Howard Shapiro, executive vice president of Brown & Brown Insurance in Tallahassee.

Shapiro also said short-term major medical plans are available at a low cost for young people who are between jobs. They are also available for those who have graduated and are awaiting eligibility for employee-based benefits.

Young people can also extend their parents' coverage, or group coverage in general, temporarily through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, Shapiro said, though this coverage is issued for up to 18 months

Regardless of health, it can be very expensive, he said. The plan is available under specific circumstances, such as voluntary or involuntary job loss, death and transition between jobs.

Shapiro said lack of insurance is more often due to irresponsibility in young people rather than unavailability.

"If something happens and you are uninsured, you will pay it off for the rest of your life," Shapiro said. "Which would you rather have each day, a six pack of beer or a health insurance policy?"

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