A few weeks ago, my personal finance class discussed health insurance. The vast majority of my classmates are seniors, so most of us are looking down the barrel of graduation. But I’m in a particularly sticky spot – I’m actually graduating in three weeks, not in May.
All of the talk of health insurance made me very, very uncomfortable. As I sat there listening, questions raced through my head: "When does my current coverage end? Is it the minute I’m no longer enrolled in classes? Do I have until graduation day, because that’s in May, and that would be better. Or do I have a grace period, like three months past graduation? If it is expiring in just a few weeks, can I pay to keep it? How much would that cost? Can I pay the same company just a little bit and get major medical insurance, or will I have to to shop around to find something I can afford?"
The College-to-Life Transition
Most college students have health insurance, simply because the university requires it – either through our parents, or we have to buy a policy that the school offers. I happen to be covered under my father’s health insurance that he has a part of his pension plan (he’s retired). But many of us decide to forgo our own health insurance after graduation… for whatever reason. If it isn’t provided by an employer, we may not be able to afford it on our own. Or we may not think we need it, because we’re healthy, right?
Ok, let me make this real simple for you: healthy people can easily get hit by a bus. Or trip over something. Or catch an STD. You are not immune, so stop thinking that you are. You need health insurance, even if it’s just "major medical," which will cover the big stuff if something bad happens. I treat health insurance like food and shelter: it’s a need.
Why’s it a need? Because in 2007, 2.2 million Americans filed for bankruptcy because of medical bills that they couldn’t pay. That’s not how I want to start out my life. Or something I want in the middle of my life. Or at the end, either. Never is a pretty good time for that to happen to me, how about you?
Making the Phone Call
Friday evening, I finally got around to calling the number on the back of my health insurance card. It was 8:00 PM, so I didn’t think anyone would answer, but that I would get a machine telling me what time I could call back. But a real, live, helpful guy answered the phone and asked me for my information. Once he was logged into my account… I asked him the $64,000 question: "When does my coverage end?"
My story comes with a happy ending. The customer service rep said, "Well, let me see…. Wow! You have a really good plan! Now, this might change next year, but what I see here is that you’re covered until you’re 26."
"26? I don’t… have to be in school or anything?"
"Nope. Until your 26th birthday. You don’t have to do anything but… be alive, and you’re covered."
This is extremely good news for me. I can take internships and part-time jobs with no benefits. I can start my own businesses and, at least for the next 3-and-a-half years, not worry about purchasing a health insurance policy. I get to keep my current coverage and just… keep on ticking!
But you saw the caveat and well as I heard it on the phone: "This might change next year." I’m going to have to call in and check on this, often. At least every six months, I’m going to call that number again, and ask them when my coverage ends. But I’m covered for now, and for longer than I thought I would be!