16 June 2010

Companies Urged to Follow new Ohio Health Law

Associated Press

Advocates for the uninsured are urging some of Ohio's biggest employers to follow a new state law that allows young adults to stay on their parents' health insurance until they turn 28, even though the companies are exempt.

The law, which takes effect July 1, makes Ohio one of the few states to exceed the extension to age 26 mandated by President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Young adults have one of the highest uninsured rates, often because they can't find jobs or because employers don't offer health coverage for entry-level positions.

Ohio's new benefit, while broad, won't help children whose parents work at private, self-insured companies that pay their workers' medical claims directly rather than buy insurance. These firms, including Procter & Gamble Co. and Honda Motor Co., fall outside state regulation.

About 6.6 million Ohioans get health insurance through employer-based coverage, and about half of those are with employers that self-insure.

It's disappointing that some of Ohio's largest employers will not voluntarily extend coverage for young adults to age 28, said Cathy Levine, executive director of the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio.

"We all benefit from having more young adults, who tend to be low-cost, in the insurance pool," she said.

Self-insured companies generally have multistate operations, and to offer health benefits in Ohio that aren't available to employees and their children in other states could be very confusing and administratively difficult, said Carrie Haughawout, who tracks health care policy at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

For now, companies such as the Cleveland Clinic, which has 28,000 employees on its self-insured health plan, are sticking with the federal regulation and will cover dependents up to age 26 only. Same with Eaton Corp., a large Cleveland-based company that makes hydraulics and electrical equipment.

Procter & Gamble, the consumer products giant based in Cincinnati, declined to comment on future plans, and Honda, which has four major auto factories in Ohio, said it still is evaluating the state changes.

The new state law will definitely fill a gap for some young adults ages 26 to 28, said Brian Gay, a 26-year-old graduate student at Ohio State University.

"Without health insurance, you cross your fingers and hope nothing happens to you," said Gay, who graduates Sunday and is covered under a school-sponsored health plan for the next three months. He'll explore coverage options with his parents if he can't land a job this summer that offers health benefits.

Ohio previously allowed dependent children to stay on their parents' health insurance until age 19 — or age 23 for a full-time student. New York allows parents to continue covering children up to age 29 in certain cases; Florida and Nebraska up to age 30; and New Jersey 31.

The federal mandate to extend coverage for young adults up to age 26, regardless of a company's self-insurance status, takes effect Sept. 23. About 1.2 million young adults nationwide are expected to sign up, more than half of whom would have been uninsured.

Ohio's law complements that, although married children aren't eligible. The new benefit should allow about 20,000 additional young adults up to age 28 to have access to health insurance, according to state estimates.

It could be more if companies that are exempt agreed to meet the standard on their own.

State regulators are unaware of any self-insured companies voluntarily taking that step, said Carly Glick, spokeswoman at the Ohio Department of Insurance.

Companies aren't on the hook for paying the added cost of extending coverage for young adults to age 28. That falls on employees who enroll their children, and prices will vary depending on individual plans.

Government workers looking to add coverage for older children are among the biggest beneficiaries of Ohio's law, including employees of Ohio State University and the state of Ohio. Even though both operate self-insured health plans, they are public institutions subject to state regulation.

The state of Ohio has about 58,000 employees and provides insurance coverage to 120,000, which includes beneficiaries, said Ron Sylvester, spokesman at the state Department of Administrative Services.

The added cost for a state employee who wants to maintain on a dependent child until age 28 ranges from about $136 per month to $150 per month, he said. About 415 new dependents already have been enrolled for the new benefit, and 259 more additions are pending.

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