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Legislators consider extending insurance coverage for Illinois dependents

Erin Watson, a 23-year-old Chicago native getting a business degree from Fordham University in New York, said she hopes to get a job with good health insurance after graduation, but added that if she doesn’t get one, she worries she will not be able to afford insurance.

“It’d be helpful to have the extra money for living expenses,” she said about the high cost of living in a city.

She may get that insurance coverage through her 29th birthday– regardless of a job– if one Democratic state lawmaker has his way.

State Rep. Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates is working to pass a bill, HB30, which would extend the current limit- a dependent’s 26th birthday- so more young adults could get health insurance through their parent’s employer.

If the bill passes thousands more would be covered, but not without a higher cost to consumers and employers, including the state, said Laura Minzer, executive director of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce’s Healthcare Council.

Although no exact cost can be calculated at this point, increasing mandates drive up the cost of insurance, she said.

It’s hard to know how much an age extension would cost the state, said Charles N. Wheeler III, a long-time budget analyst and professor of public affairs reporting at the University of Illinois at Springfield. [Crespo] would be required to state how much it would cost if it is presented to the full House, he added.

As part of Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, which is working to insure about 32 million more people by 2020, the federal government will reimburse the state for some of the insurance coverage, but only the essential health benefits.

This means the state would have to pick up the slack if insurance packages offer more coverage than just the essentials, costing taxpayers more. It also means insurance companies would have to charge more for their packages, and the expense would transfer to consumers and employers.

Minzer said this was a problem because, “Unaffordable coverage is inaccessible coverage,” she said, adding that this was the reason the chamber could not support this bill.

She said concerns about insurance coverage for could be laid to rest because there were many ways- as mandated by the Affordable Care Act- for young adults to get cheaper rates by applying for subsidies through the state.

Despite repeated attempts, Crespo and the five co-sponsors of the bill did not return calls about the cost or impact this bill would have on the state of Illinois and consumers.

A survey indicates why they might have pursued this bill.

Nineteen- to 29-year-olds have the highest rate of being uninsured, according to an issue brief from the Commonwealth Fund.

This is problematic because a survey through the same organization in 2011 found nearly one third of this uninsured population and 46 percent of the same population with chronic medical problems said their health conditions worsened because they couldn’t afford to visit the doctor.

The study also found that 60 percent of this population had trouble paying medical bills.

One representative from the National Conference of State Legislatures saw the benefits of such a bill.

Because this portion of the population is largely uninsured, once they become insured, “they are less likely to have unexpected and uncompensated care,” said Richard Cauchi, the program director on health for the organization.

Many states have extended the age for coverage, with New Jersey holding the record: unmarried dependents may receive coverage through their 31st birthday. With the passage of Obamacare, many more states are extending the age of coverage, said Cauchi.

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