Debra J. Saunders

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee health care bill includes a provision that would allow parents to keep their children as dependents on their health care policies until age 26. Not to be outdone, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced last month that, as Congressional Quarterly reported, the House bill "will allow young people to stay on their parents' policies until age 27."

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Do I hear age 28? Why not 30? As long as Washington is giving away private health care coverage, why not eliminate the age cap entirely? The House plan enjoys the support of a new group, "the Young Invincibles," an organization, Pelosi explained "formed to get young adults behind the campaign for health insurance reform."

Eureka. Pelosi has found the way to get young adults behind health care reform -- have mom and dad (or their employers) pay for it. Of course young adults are jumping on the bandwagon.

A few years ago, Matthew McConaughey starred in the movie "Failure to Launch" about a thirtysomething adult who did not want to fly the familial coop. Now the Beltway wants to enable adults to live as their parents' health care wards for years after they've been emancipated.

Forget the old system that allowed adult children to remain on their parents' policies until age 19, or up to age 23 if they were in college, and hence financially dependent. The Washington measures would apply to adults up to age 26 or 27, whether they live at home or not -- as long as they are not married or parents. (And how long do you think it will take for politicians to eliminate those exclusions?)

To my surprise, the insurance industry believes that, if enacted, the failure-to-launch provisions "will have a minimal impact," according to Robert Zirkelbach, press secretary for America's Health Insurance Plans.

In part, the industry accepts this new definition of "dependent" because states have been passing laws extending the wonder years. According to Zirkelbach, Delaware and Oklahoma draw the line at age 18, but it's 22 for North Dakota; 24 in Indiana, South Dakota and Tennessee; 25 in 13 states; and, age 30 in four states, including New Jersey. Also, states have different criteria dealing with residency. The toothpaste is out of the tube; at least a federal measure would provide uniform standards.

As health care expert Steve Zuckerman of the Urban Institute noted, putting young adults on their parents' policies mean more premiums for insurers to cover a group that has pretty low claims.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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