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The college student’s case for health reform

Hilda Solis | Wednesday, March 23, 2011

This op-ed was written for the one-year anniversary (Mar. 23) of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, which allows parents to maintain health insurance on their children until age 26.

A year ago this week, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. The law enacts significant health insurance reforms that will take effect over the next several years. But one very important piece of that law is already in place. And it may directly benefit you.

The Affordable Care Act ensures that college students and young adults can stay on their parents’ employer-provided health care plans until age 26. Before, many health plans and issuers dropped young adults from their parents’ policies because of their age. That left countless college students, recent college graduates and other young people with little recourse, and worse: no health insurance. Historically, some 30 percent of young adults have been uninsured, a rate far higher than that of any other age group.

But young people don’t need health insurance, right? The statistics say otherwise: One-in-six young adults today is faced with a chronic illness such as cancer, diabetes or asthma. And nearly half of uninsured young adults report problems paying medical bills.

The new law ensures you have an option when it comes to your health care. This is important as you continue through school and as you transition into the job market, since you may find that health care coverage is not immediately available through your employer. Or you may work part time. You may choose to continue your education and go to graduate school, or take time off to travel and pursue volunteer opportunities.

It allows you to remain on your parents’ plan, or rejoin it until age 26, even if you no longer live with your parents, are not a dependent on their tax return or are no longer a student. The new flexibility even applies if you are married. You are guaranteed the same benefits and at the same price that is available to other dependents.

More health care improvements are on the way — and many may also directly benefit you. Already, coverage cannot be denied for those under age 19 because of a pre-existing condition. By 2014, denying coverage to anyone based on a pre-existing condition will be banned. Annual dollar caps on care (which are already limited) will be prohibited, and state-based health insurance exchanges will create a new marketplace, giving more employers and millions of Americans the ability to purchase affordable coverage.

The Affordable Care Act is based on the simple belief that every American — and that includes college students — deserves access to high-quality, affordable health care. One year after it has become law, that belief is becoming reality.

Hilda Solis is the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.