Got a degree? Got a job? Still Uninsured?

Young Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 are the least likely age group to have health insurance. While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has made it possible for most young adults to remain on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26, there is still a large group of young adults under 26 that don’t find coverage through this provision. My friend Kevin is an example.

Plenty of people assume that going to college means having better job options, and that having a better job means having health coverage.  In many cases, that may be true.  When my friend Kevin graduated from college, he landed what he thought was a good job.  As a healthy young person and without much experience he didn’t give much thought to the fact that his new job didn’t offer health benefits.  Unfortunately, the small business Kevin works for can't afford the high cost of covering its employees.

With the ACA's new provision allowing young adults to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26, many young people in Kevin’s situation might have been able to just stay on their parents' plans.  Unfortunately, Kevin’s parents are small business owners, too, unable to afford coverage themselves.

Times have changed these last few years.  For new college graduates, it seems that finding well-paying, professional employment has been hard, and finding one with health benefits is even harder. This is especially true in Texas where over 90 percent of employers are small businesses. A majority of small businesses -- 68 percent -- do not offer health insurance to their employees, citing cost as the primary reason.

So, not too long ago, Kevin attempted to purchase independent coverage on his own, directly from an insurance company.  But, he said, “it was so confusing and difficult to compare prices and plans,” and not knowing what to do, he gave up.

Plenty of young adults will find themselves in Kevin’s shoes. They've followed all of society's "rules".  They've graduated, gotten a college degree, landed a job, but still lack health care coverage.  My message to them is: Don't give up, there is good news and hope on the horizon!

Starting in 2014, it will be much easier for people of all ages to find affordable, comprehensive coverage through an online health insurance exchange website.  The exchange is being designed as a marketplace where people will be able to easily price shop, compare plans side-by-side, and even benefit from substantial reductions in price depending on your income.

In 2014, uninsured individuals will be asked to either purchase health insurance through these exchanges, or if they do not, they’ll be taxed a small penalty to keep the system working for everybody.  When I asked Kevin about his two choices, he said, “I would definitely purchase the coverage.”  Though he is relatively healthy and young, Kevin has come to appreciate health insurance as an asset because, "you never know what can happen."

In spite of the political battles over health care, Kevin said he's hopeful the ACA will remain intact and looks forward to voting in this upcoming presidential election to protect it.  I do, too.

Rebecca Ekpeti is a Summer 2012 intern with Children's Defense Fund-Texas.