July 16, 2007 in Idaho

Error trips up insurance for young

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer
 

Idaho’s uninsured

A state-commissioned study released last week found that between 16 percent and 18 percent of Idaho’s nonelderly population lacks health insurance.

“The age group most likely to lack insurance is 18- to 24-year-olds, of whom 38 percent are uninsured.

“Second highest is age 25 to 34, which has 28 percent uninsured.

“Children are the most likely to have coverage, but 10 percent of those from birth to 17 remain uninsured.

Source: Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations

BOISE – A new law designed to cover more uninsured Idahoans by letting more college students and young adults stay on their parents’ health plans has run into a glitch that’s rendering it inapplicable to most large health plans.

“It’s a snafu on my part and on the part of bill-drafting,” said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, lead sponsor of SB 1105.

The bill sought to allow unmarried dependents to stay on their parents’ health insurance policies until age 21, or until 25 if the dependent is a full-time student. Previous law allowed that only until age 19, or 23 for full-time students. The change is designed to reduce the number of uninsured Idahoans.

Cameron said the bill inadvertently referenced sections of Idaho Code that apply to individual and small-group insurance plans, but not those covering large group plans – those covering more than 50 employees. The new law took effect July 1.

Cameron said some insurance carriers, including Delta Dental, have said they’ll voluntarily comply with the intent of the law and extend the change to large group insurance plans as well as smaller ones. But at least one major carrier, Blue Cross, has declined to do so.

“We are appealing to Blue Cross to reconsider their decision,” Cameron said. “We will propose legislation if necessary to address it.”

The Idaho Department of Insurance concluded that the law, as written, applies only to individual and small-group plans, and it advised all carriers of that in a bulletin.

“We’re going to follow the law as it’s written here,” said Karen Early, director of corporate communications for Blue Cross of Idaho, who said Blue Cross supported the bill. “Of course any change that you make to expand benefits increases cost. As much as we support this, we recognize that there is an increased cost to our members and to our groups. So we are at this time doing everything we can do to hold down those costs. … We’ve elected to not change our policies as it relates to large groups.”

Cameron said 18- to 24-year-olds are the population group most likely to be uninsured in Idaho. “Typically these are the healthiest of our population – they are the very people that we want on our health plans to improve our cost ratios and improve our affordability,” said Cameron, an insurance agent.

A state Board of Education rule requires all Idaho public university or college students to have health coverage.

But “many of the plans offered to these students are inferior products,” with higher costs and less coverage than simply remaining on parents’ plans, Cameron said.

Another attraction to extending the age of dependency, he said, is that many policies charge families the same amount for two or more, or three or more, dependents. So some families could keep their college students on their policies without paying more. “We thought it was a win-win,” Cameron said. “We address the uninsured and make coverage more affordable to that age group – and thereby make their education more affordable.”

Some other states also have been looking at extending the age of dependency for health plans, with New Jersey recently raising it to 30. That’s prompted jokes about enabling “slackers.”

Cameron said, “I think we found a good balance with age 25.”

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said, “I think it shows that the Legislature is committed to trying to increase health care access, and that there are some stumbling blocks which we have to overcome. I applaud those that have voluntarily carried out the intention. It’s unfortunate that others – I hope they’ll come around.”


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email