Health care politics: Obama fast-tracks new law's coverage of adult children

Raising the dependent age on family policies to 26 is a keystone of health care reform, targeting the largest pool of uninsured. It's an early test of how corporations – and voters – will react.

By , Staff writer

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    Ryan Brennan, 22, a student at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, is currently covered through his parents' health insurance. Raising the dependent age on family policies to 26 is a keystone of health care reform.
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The new health care overhaul won't take full effect for nearly another four years, but President Obama said in his weekly Saturday radio and Internet address that key provisions are already helping American families. And one provision – covering children up to 26 years old under their parents’ plan – will likely take effect this summer rather than the fall deadline.

Obama's statements come a month and a half after the partisan passage of a historic measure that roiled the American electorate, fueled the "tea party" movement and promises to become a key campaign point for Republicans mounting a comeback campaign to diminish Democrats' dominance in Congress.

Highlighting a coming tax break for 4 million small businesses, a $250 rebate for senior citizens to help with prescriptions, and moves by the administration to bar unfair rate hikes, Obama also pointed to decisions already taken by insurance companies to stop dropping patients who get sick and the wide-scale agreement within the industry to step up coverage for adult dependents as measurable successes of the new law.

"Starting this spring, young adults graduating from college will be able to stay on their parents' plans for a few more years … getting the security of knowing they can start off life with one less cost to sorry about," Obama said. "This is what change looks like."

To make the financials work, Congress delayed many provisions in the historic attempt to overhaul the nation's $2.5 trillion private health care system and cover some 32 million uninsured Americans.

The decision to cover 26-year-olds under their parents' plans earlier than expected will go a long way toward that goal. It's also a part of a push to give American voters – especially young ones – a chance to see the benefits of the plan before the November elections.

But it could also fast-track decisions by corporations like Caterpillar, who have mulled accepting government fines by dropping employee health care plans over provisions like the new dependent-coverage adjustment. That provision alone, Caterpillar says, could cost the company $20 million.

If such decisions become widespread, it could increase the government's share of health care costs. Fortune magazine estimates that the government will pay $2,100 for every American whose insurance is dropped by employers as a result of the law. "If 50 percent of people covered … get dumped," the magazine recently wrote, "federal health care costs will rise by $160 billion a year in 2016, in addition to the $93 billion in subsidies already forecast by the [Congressional Budget Office.]"

Still, as the Fortune article concludes, "It's impossible to know for certain what the unintended consequences ... will be."

Meanwhile, unemployment inched up from 9.7 to 9.9 percent last month (because more people are seeking jobs in an improving economy) even as companies added 290,000 workers. And as the health care law begins to slowly take effect across America, Democrats are worried about polling that shows that the new law, despite its benefits, could still add to Americans' anxiety about the future.

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