Jessica Kissel '10 turns 23 in March — which is when her status as a dependent under her mother's health insurance policy is slated to end.
Fortunately for Kissel, she and her mother are confident that she can remain a dependent while she is enrolled in school. But Kissel plans to go directly into the workforce after graduation, confronting her with the prospect of living and working in a world where she cannot afford health insurance.
According to Edward Miller, an adjunct associate professor of community health, people under 30 make up nearly a third of uninsured Americans and are the fastest-growing group of people without health insurance.
Miller said many states allow for parents' insurance to cover their children as dependents regardless of whether they are enrolled in school. New Jersey, for example, has one of the country's best plans for allowing dependents to remain on their parents' insurance, Miller said. Children stay covered until age 31, provided they have no spouse or dependents of their own, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures Web site.
About 30 states have laws that allow for parents' insurance to extend to their children regardless of enrollment status, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, according to the Web site.
Parents might be willing to help graduating seniors purchase health insurance, Miller said, or young alums may be able to enroll in graduate school and purchase health insurance there through the university for a better price.
But those planning to leave school behind will struggle to find low-entry jobs with adequate benefits, Miller said, especially since many positions require employees to work for a certain length of time before offering them benefits.
Miller said he expects many college graduates to forego health insurance altogether until their jobs offer it as a benefit or they can afford private insurance — especially since college graduates tend to be young and relatively healthy.
Unfortunately, Miller said, the trend of younger people waiting to buy health insurance can drive health premiums up.
"In a sense, you need those healthy people in as well to keep costs down," Miller said.
Professor of Medical Science Vincent Mor said people under 30 who go without health insurance leave themselves open to accidents and other "dastardly things."
Kissel herself is aware of the risk, she said. About five years ago, her cousin — who had no health insurance — was in a bad car accident. She said the prospect of lacking health insurance was something she worried about, despite her age.
Still, Mor said the motivation to go without health insurance was strong, especially since many college graduates might see paying for insurance as a waste of money.
"Would you rather pay your cell phone bill or your health insurance premium?" Mor said.
The problem, he said, was that people who cannot afford the insurance need subsidies. A fight to improve the situation has been raging in Congress, but Mor said he does not expect the problem to be resolved soon.
For her part, Kissel said she is not sure what she will do about obtaining health insurance. She plans to work for a year or so — not long enough to gain benefits in most places, she acknowledged — and then enroll in graduate school.
She said she and her friends do not talk much about their predicament, though she has a friend who has secured a position that will come with benefits.
"Mostly we just talk about, ‘Lord, I hope I have a job,' " she said.