Illinois insurance changes keep students covered

By Gus Bode

Recent changes to the Illinois health insurance plans have left students and parents with one less thing to worry about after graduation.

But some state lobbyists think this change will cause more harm than good.

Earlier this month, Gov. Rod Blagojevich used his amendatory veto power for a change to be made to House Bill 5285. The bill originally stated college students would be covered by their parents’ health insurance until graduation or the age of 23.

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With a 35-17 vote, the Senate approved the change Aug.19, requiring all Illinois insurers to cover dependents until the age of 26, regardless of college enrollment. The bill takes effect Jan. 1.

Lynn Wells of Buffalo Grove said she was pleased when she found out about the change during a local news broadcast.

Wells said her daughter is a junior at SIUC and the new bill helps to ease her mind about how her daughter will pay for her own health care after graduation.

“I don’t have to worry if she doesn’t get a job right away when she graduates, because she will still be covered if she was to get sick,” Wells said.

Jay Shattuck, executive director of employment law for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said he did not think young adults would have a hard time finding cheap insurance coverage.

Shattuck said the changes that have been made are unnecessary and there are insurance plans available to young adults, which would cost a minimum of $40 a month.

Jessica Veracini, a junior from Prophetstown studying animal science, said she has not really thought about who would be paying for her insurance after college, because she plans on earning a doctorate, leaving seven years of school still ahead.

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But, she said, it should not be up to parents to take care of insurance after students graduate from college.

“You should be responsible for paying your own insurance because you are considered an adult when you graduate and that’s your responsibility,” Veracini said.

According to the governor’s Web site, there are 1.4 million dependents between the ages of 19 and 25 and more than 300,000 who are uninsured in Illinois.

At SIUC alone, there are roughly 15,500 students insured by the university, said Jim Hunsaker, insurance administrator for SIUC.

Hunsaker said approximately 3,500 students apply for a $243 refund of the student medical benefit care fee during the fall semester. Others have outside insurance as their primary coverage, but still use the university’s as a secondary, he said.

Hunsaker said this change made to the bill would have no direct impact on the university increasing or lowering the fee.

“Only … a dramatic drop in enrollment for the plan or more people obtaining the refund would change it,” Hunsaker said.

Although this will not affect the university now, Shattuck said insurance companies will most likely increase their rates because they will have to cover young adults an extra three years.

Shattuck said he is strongly against the bill because he thinks the changes made were extreme. He questioned if it is constitutional for the government to do something like this so quickly.

Shattuck said he thinks it was unfair to not hold any public hearings before a decision was made, and the law department of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce is considering a lawsuit.

“We believe that businesses should determine what their benefits are and they shouldn’t be forced to cover these adults,” Shattuck said.

Mary Ann Schultz, manager of media relations for Blue Cross Blue Shield, said the insurance company is one of the largest in the United States and covers most Illinois families.

Schultz said, with the changes to the bill, the company would see a 1.5 percent increase in membership. However, there will not be a dramatic increase in plan rates, she said.

For parents who work under large group employers, there will be a 1 percent increase and for small groups employers, which is two to 50 employees, there will be a 1 to 5 percent increase, depending on the number of employees in the group, Schultz said.

“This will have a neutral impact on insurers,” Schultz said. “People think it will be extreme, but it’s not.”

Daniel Wiggins, a senior from McLeansboro studying finance, said he is glad the age limit has increased for being under his parent’s insurance plan because he is set to graduate soon.

Wiggins said there definitely needed to be health care support for recent college graduates, if only for an extra year.

“Nobody can find a job right out of college with good benefits,” Wiggins said. “Now I don’t have to worry about it.”

Jenn Lofton can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 273 or [email protected]

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