by Ron Pollack
(Editor's Note: Ron Pollack is the executive director of Families USA, the national organization for health care consumers.)
With spring comes another crop of college graduates. For many, graduation can bring a flood of widely varying emotions. On one hand, there's the fist-pumping, cap-in-the-air celebration of a diploma in hand: Four years of long nights of study, heavy class loads, and numerous deadlines for papers are now left behind. On the other hand, the day can also bring a gut-wrenching uncertainly about job prospects. There are few other milestones in life where emotions can run the gamut from one end of the continuum to the other.
Fortunately for graduates and their families, the Affordable Care Act has wiped away one of the big concerns young people have historically faced as they entered the working world. The class of 2013 will be the third spring graduating class that will be allowed to remain on their parents' health-insurance plans until they are 26.
Before the health-care law was enacted, losing access to parental coverage meant that many young adults ended up being uninsured. For those who were lucky enough to find a job in this economy, those jobs often didn't come with health insurance. Young people who tried instead to purchase coverage directly from an insurance company learned the cost of that coverage could be prohibitively high. Others who did buy such coverage sometimes found that the only policies they could afford didn't cover the services they needed - services that had been covered under their parents' health plan.
Now young adults can stay on their parents' health-insurance plans regardless of whether they are still students, and whether their parents' insurance comes from a job or directly from an insurance company. This holds true even if young adults are married, live in a different state from their parents, or are no longer financially dependent on their parents (although if young adults are offered coverage through their jobs, they might not be able to stay on their parents' plans).
So why does this matter to you? Well, it's been three years, but there is still an education process going on about the benefits of the health-care law. As your grandkids celebrate their graduations, you can help make sure they know about this option.
In addition, if your grandkids are still in college but need better health insurance than what is offered through their school, you can encourage them to look into their parents' plans. During busy and exciting times, young adults may not make health coverage a high priority, so having a grandparent or parent looking out for them can make a big difference.
Also, it's important to remember that we all benefit when more people have health insurance. That's because, when people don't have insurance, we all pay the price: The costs of providing care to people without insurance are passed on to those of us who do have insurance in the form of higher premiums. Getting everyone covered keeps those costs down.
There are big changes coming in 2013 and 2014 that will provide access to quality health coverage for millions of Americans - but for students, the benefits of the health-care law have been in place for several years. In its own way, the law has given college graduates one less thing to worry about - which is a big plus for graduates and their families.