Young professionals in Oklahoma said Tuesday's health care ruling will provide much needed relief during the unnerving years between college and professional work.
Among the many tenets of the Affordable Care Act — signed into law in 2010, but now getting approval from the U.S. Supreme Court — is one that mandates people up to age 26 can stay on their parents' health insurance policies.
Samantha Shaughnessy, a 23-year-old package handler at a UPS Store in Oklahoma City, said she is happy to put off the burden of expensive health care premiums until her college loans are retired and she is better situated in a career.
“It's helpful that I will be able to graduate in December, find a full-time job and that it's not going to be crunch time,” Shaughnessy said. “It gives me at least three more years before I have to get too serious about insurance and stuff.”
The requirement that insurance companies extend coverage to dependents of policy holders up to age 26 became law in 2010. But had the Supreme Court decided differently on Tuesday, many of those who became eligible then might have been ruled ineligible once again.
Shaughnessy, who will graduate with a broadcasting degree from University of Central Oklahoma, said she does not currently qualify for health insurance through her employer because she works part-time. If she were dropped from her parents' coverage plan, she likely would have no health insurance at all.
“For the most part, until I can get a consistent full-time job … I will pay a portion of my premium, but my parents pay the rest,” she said.
Edmond resident Stacey Saunders said she paid $150 each month for health insurance for about three years after she turned 19. When she re-enrolled at UCO three years ago, she was again eligible for coverage under her mom's health insurance plan.
Now 24 and looking forward to graduation in the spring, Saunders said she is relieved her coverage will be extended another year.
“In your early 20s you're still trying to establish yourself financially, and it's the little things you can save money on,” she said. “It's really hard when you're a student and you're trying to pay all of your other bills.”
More than three million young Americans who were previously uninsured became eligible under their parents' plans after the act became law in 2010, said Aaron Smith, co-founder and executive director for Young Invincibles.
The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit has been working since the act was initially proposed to give young adults a voice in the national health care debate, Smith said.
In Oklahoma, an estimated 49,000 previously uninsured adults aged 19-25 gained health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act through December 2011, according to a National Health Interview Survey.
Smith said nationwide more than 20 million young people ages 18-25 are uninsured because either their parents are not insured or because they're not aware of the law change in 2010.
“Because of the way the economy is set up now, we get a job but it doesn't give you benefits,” he said. “You could see as many as 17 million young people who are currently uninsured who could get coverage.”
A parent's story
Bobby Whittington, a resident of Grandfield and the sheriff of Tillman County, said one of his daughters, Allie, is among those to benefit from the new plan.
Allie Whittington is 23 and unemployed but looking hard for a full-time gig, her father said. Just before she graduated from college, he said, the health care act was approved and she became eligible under his family plan.
Though he's critical of some facets of the act, Whittington said he is thankful for the one that protects young adults.
“With me personally having a daughter that's trying to find a job in a depressed economy, I'm tickled in that sense,” he said.
“I'm from the school where you earn what you get, but if the parent has an insurance plan in place and they're wanting to continue that insurance plan for a relative that they're taking care of I think they ought to have that option.”