Hispanic Student And Family Celebrating GraduationIt’s that time of year again — young adults are graduating from high schools, colleges and graduate schools and preparing for the next phase of their lives. So far, I’ve been to at least half a dozen parties, dinners and open houses for the graduates in my life.

Many of the graduates I know were born when I was graduating from high school, college and even graduate school. As I look back at all the graduations I’ve experienced, I can’t help but notice how much has changed since then, especially when it comes to health coverage. For example, the health coverage options for college students were a lot different when I was in school in the 1990s.

Back then, students at my college were required to have some form of health coverage, although I can’t recall how, or if, the college administration checked on that. Some students were able to be on their parents’ plans, while others had to purchase their own plans, whether as part of their college’s student health plan or from another source. A few decided to take the risk of going without coverage and hope they never had a need for it — not a good idea.

My parents’ health plan only covered dependent kids until age 19, unless they were full-time students. I had to go to the registrar’s office every fall and get a letter from the dean proving that I was a full-time student so that I could stay on their plan. That option was only available until my 24th birthday, so I had to go on an individual plan when I went to graduate school.

The individual plan I had in graduate school was quite inexpensive — a few hundred dollars a year — but it had a sky-high deductible, and a maximum limit on how much it would pay. Thankfully, I only got sick once or twice in graduate school, and I was able to make use of the student health center when I was sick on one occasion.

Whether they’re continuing their education, entering the work force or waiting for their next opportunity, young adults need health coverage. It’s important for young adults to talk with their parents, guardians or health coverage experts about questions like:

  • Why do I need health coverage?
  • Which options are right for me?
  • How much will coverage cost?
  • Am I eligible for any help with health coverage?
  • Will I be covered away from home?
  • Where can I find health coverage?

Why Young Adults Need Health Coverage

“No matter what stage of life you’re in, having the right health coverage is a must,” says Highmark Inc. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Donald R. Fischer, MD. “Many young people feel invincible, and are tempted to go without coverage. They mistakenly think that they can’t afford to have health coverage. But the truth is, no one can afford not to have health coverage.”

Although young adults are commonly thought to be “young invincibles” who generally don’t use a lot of health care services, they still need health coverage because:

Coverage Options for Young Adults

Young adults have several options for health coverage, depending on their unique situations and needs.

Parents’ Health Plans

The Affordable Care Act now allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health plans up to the age of 26. They can do so even if they are married, don’t live with their parents, don’t attend school full-time, aren’t financially dependent on their parents, or are eligible for a plan through their employer. This option has become popular since it was introduced a few years ago.

Keep in mind that if a young adult marries or has children, his or her spouse/children cannot be added as dependents under this option. This option also may cost parents and their children more than other options, particularly if premiums are based on the number of dependents. Also, young adults who are attending school or working away from home should check to see which providers in their area are in-network.

Student Health Plans

Young adults who are going to college or graduate school may be eligible to purchase their school’s student health plan. This option may make sense for young adults attending school away from home, particularly if they’re attending school in an area with a limited selection of in-network providers on their parents’ plan. This option, however, may be only available to full-time students in some cases. Also, student health plans typically don’t cover students after graduation.

Individual Plans

Young adults can also choose to purchase individual health plans. People under 30 are also eligible for catastrophic health plans, which are plans designed to cover catastrophic expenses. These plans typically have lower monthly premiums, but high deductibles.

Highmark offers a wide selection of individual health plans. We encourage young adults and their parents to visit discoverhighmark.com or, in Pennsylvania, any of our Highmark Direct stores to learn more about their options. Highmark also offers individual plans on the Health Insurance Marketplace at healthcare.gov.

Employer-Sponsored Plans

Young adults who enter the workforce may be eligible to participate in their employers’ plans. In most cases, they pay part of the premiums from their paycheck. Their organizations’ human resources or benefits staff can provide more information about their coverage options.


Young adults and their families who meet certain requirements based on income, household size, disability, family status and other factors may be eligible for Medicaid. Requirements vary from state to state.

Questions to Think About

Here are some questions for young adults and their parents to think about when deciding on the right coverage options.

  • How much in monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs, such as deductibles, copays and coinsurance, are you comfortable paying?
  • Are you willing to pay more in out-of pocket costs in exchange for a lower monthly premium, or more in monthly premiums in exchange for lower out-of-pocket costs?
  • How often do you typically go to the doctor, get prescriptions or use other health services in a given year?
  • Do you have any conditions or special health needs?
  • Will you be away from home?
  • Will you travel often?
  • Will you get married or start a family soon?

Once you have these answers in mind, you’ll be prepared to guide your new graduate through the rite of passage that is selecting his or her first adult health plan.