Covering the kids: Minnesotans sign on for federal health care reform’s young adult coverage


For the last three years, Molly Rosen watched while her son, Casey, struggled with mysterious leg pain from a fall that couldn’t be diagnosed because he didn’t have any health insurance. 

This summer, Casey, now 24, finally got the diagnosis he needed, followed by surgery, after Rosen added him onto her health insurance from her work at the University of Minnesota as an intellectual property paralegal.

“Doctors say if (Casey) hadn’t been diagnosed, if they hadn’t found the tumor that was growing, he probably would have lost his leg,” she said.

Beginning this fall, the federal health care reform bill signed into law allows parents to cover dependents under age 26 on their plans, regardless of whether they are still going to college, living with their parents or even married.

An estimated one in 10 Minnesotans was without health care insurance in 2009, according to a U.S. Census estimate released this month. The ranks of the uninsured grew by 100,000 Minnesotans over the course of the decade, to 450,000 people, the survey reported.

As fewer employers offer health insurance, more people are turning to government insurance programs, despite the uncertainty surrounding their funding. The recent Census numbers highlight the need for the federal health care reform recently enacted into law, said Christina Wessel, deputy director of the Minnesota Budget Project.

“If federal health care reform were already in effect, the recession-related increase in the number of uninsured would have been a fraction of what we saw today,” she said.”

Covering Casey

Though he’ll need more treatment, Rosen said she breathes easier knowing that Casey will be covered on her insurance for two more years.

The expanded dependent eligibility provision within the new health care reform law has resulted in coverage for at least 2,600 previously uninsured Minnesotans, said Eileen Smith, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Council of Health Plans.

And that number will likely increase, as employees renew their health insurance plans after the Sept. 23 start date after which the extended dependent care option must be included in all new policies, she said.

Casey had been covered under Rosen’s insurance until he dropped out of college at 19, she said. A series of low-wage jobs in food delivery and security followed, none of which had insurance benefits.

Two years later, he fell on his knee and experienced “tremendous pain” that has rendered him unable to fully use the leg, Rosen said.

This June, Rosen added her son to her insurance coverage, prompted by notification from the University of Minnesota that they would be adopting the extended dependent care option in their plans for all 18,000 employees throughout the system, before the law required it.

High interest

Minnesota law already required insurers to offer coverage for single dependents up to age 25, but the health care reform law has generated a surge of interest and new enrollments, said Karen Chapin, manager of health programming for the University.

“We’ve added about 375 people, which is more than we expected,” she said. “The minute that bill passed, we had calls coming in from employees anxious to sign up their dependents.”

Casey was eventually diagnosed with a chondroblastoma, a tumor that had been growing slowly in his leg since he was a boy. By the time he fell on it, doctors said it was putting enough pressure on his femur that it could have fractured at any time, Rosen said.

An operation to remove the tumor earlier this month at the University of Minnesota Medical Center Fairview was a success, but doctors say this type of tumor often grows back and could require more surgery, she said.

“I’m grateful that we were able to get this taken care of in time,” she said. “But he’s got a lot of recovery to do and he’s not out of the woods yet.”

Young adults covered

The new health care reform law covers young adults up to age 26, no matter whether they are enrolled in college, no longer live with their parents, or are married and no longer dependents.

The law requires insurers to add coverage without reducing the eligible benefits or charging higher costs than they would for any other dependent.

About 30 percent of young adults are uninsured, representing one in five of the total number of uninsured in America, according to the United States Department of Labor.

Expanding the pool of eligible dependents will cost employers such as the University of Minnesota more in the short term, Chapin said.

“It always costs you some money to cover more people, regardless of how healthy they are,” she said. “But it may, over time, help our coverage pool and reduce the overall risk.”