September 21st, 2009
12:44 PM ET

Health care in the real world: duct tape won’t suffice

By Ashley J. WennersHerron
CNN NY Medical News Intern

Come May 2010, I may be forced to trade in my health insurance for my college diploma. The results of the ongoing health care reform debate may determine what happens.

My current insurance carrier, TriCare Standard, is common for military families. I am coverd by them until I’m 23 years old, or until I can no longer classify myself as a full-time student. If I continue through graduate school, I can keep my health insurance for two more years. The problem is that when I finish graduate school, I’ll have to work to pay off any loans. With the current job market, my chances for finding long-term work that provides healthcare coverage, are slim to none. Not only will I have to worry about loan payments, I will also carry the extra concern of finding and paying for a health insurance plan.

My predicament is a familiar one for most college students. About 20 percent of us are uninsured, according to a report conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. For the 80 percent of us with coverage, our insurance will turn to dust soon after we flip our tassels to the right side of our mortarboards in May.

However, we can protect ourselves. We must learn the details of our current plans, and our options for the future. Insurance regulations vary state to state, meaning a plan based out of Virginia may strip me of insurance the day after graduation, but the same plan in Florida may allow me to keep my insurance until the age of 30, as long as no one becomes dependent on me.

President Obama’s health care plan calls for a national age limit of 25 years old before a person is removed from his or her family’s insurance plan, which would provide the time necessary to find a job and make a dent in loan repayments. Students and recent graduates might also consider short-term coverage plans with catastrophic caps, to be used for unforeseeable health emergencies. It’s something, but that type of plan doesn’t provide for the every-day possibility of minor injuries or common illnesses.

Consider moving out of the college dorms the day after graduation: You can accidentally cut your hand with the scissors you are using to cut tape. That’s an out of pocket expense for stitches. You could drop a heavy box on your foot. That’s another expense. The dust you inhale from under your bed may induce an asthma attack. There’s the possibility of an ambulance ride and a hospital stay, none of which is covered in a short-term plan, because it’s a pre-existing condition.

Are you a college student, or a parent of a college student, worried about your future health care insurance options? Are you a recent graduate who can’t find a job that offers health care?

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.