Military Dependents Deserve Equal Access to Healthcare
Healthcare open enrollment season has just completed, and thousands of young graduates from military families faced lose-lose decisions.
The lucky ones will snag a rare job with health insurance in one of the toughest job markets in decades. The vast majority of others will remain unemployed and make one of two choices:
- Enroll in the TRICARE Young Adult Program under their parents’ plans at an additional cost of hundreds of additional dollars per month while without income,
- Or risk being uninsured during a global pandemic.
Here’s what’s happening, based on my personal experience
Instead, dependents are covered by their parents’ insurance policy under TRICARE until the age of 23 if enrolled in undergraduate or graduate classes, and until the age of 21 if not.
As the daughter of a recently retired Coast Guard Captain, I felt this discrepancy firsthand.
I remember when our family first found out, thanks to a military magazine article.
I was a college junior, still figuring things out like everyone else. But I was forced to quickly come to a shared understanding with my family that they could not afford to enroll me in the TRICARE Young Adult Program after my graduation. While I certainly never intended to be unemployed after my graduation, either way, a security blanket enjoyed by many of my peers was ripped from under my feet.
For me and for so many other military dependents, these were our options: graduate school or a job with insurance or bust.
I was thankfully accepted into Columbia University to pursue a Masters In Public Administration. Classes would start a month after my college graduation, and I would complete my masters within the year.
That summer, I renewed my military ID at the Coast Guard Base in Charleston before moving to New York City. When they handed me the new card, there was a hard truth on the right-hand side of the ID that would go on to define my early twenties:
Expiration Date: May 20, 2017.
My military status, and therefore my health insurance, would expire the day of my commencement at Columbia.
Throughout that next year, my job hunt was on overdrive as I balanced graduate school on the fast track. Simultaneously, newly-elected President Donald Trump initiated a job freeze on open positions in the federal government, therefore vanishing an MPA student’s typical employment runway.
I grasped for other positions in non-profits and consulting firms, and applied for, interviewed at and was rejected from over 30 organizations. The stress became so much I suffered from hives across my body for a week.
That same spring, I was thankful to spontaneously connect with the team at Exposure Labs, the award-winning film production company behind The Social Dilemma, Chasing Coral and Chasing Ice, and was offered a position (with health insurance).
I was lucky.
And while my experience was difficult, I certainly wasn’t navigating what could be the deepest recession since World War Two, according to the World Bank.
2020 and 2021 graduates are finding themselves in a broken and seemingly inaccessible job market due to the necessary physical and economic restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. There are no in-person job fairs, interviews or networking events. And these impacts can go on to determine graduates’ long-term job growth and wage potential for decades to come.
Lisa Kahn, an economist at the Yale School of Management, conducted a comprehensive study to explore exactly that. She learned that those who entered the job market in weak economies earned less at the beginning of their careers than those who started in strong economies and that this disadvantage persisted for as long as twenty years.
As we take all measures to control this virus, we must also offer every tailwind possible to disadvantaged graduates to give them a better footing in this tough job market… which leads us to the Great Recession and the birth of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
You, Me and the ACA
Just over ten years ago, the ACA was signed into law during an economic emergency and expanded health coverage to 20 million Americans.
One of the first ACA provisions to go into effect was the rule guaranteeing young adults the right to stay on a parent’s insurance until the age of 26.
There are many reasons why this was one of the first provisions. According to the Obama Administration in 2010,
- Pre-ACA, young adults had the highest uninsured rate of any group at one-third uninsured.
- Young adults had the lowest rate of access to employer-based insurance, due in part to being at the beginning of their careers, and more often holding entry-level or part-time positions, jobs in start-ups, or other types of employment that typically comes without employer-sponsored health insurance.
- And one in six young adults had a chronic illness like cancer, diabetes or asthma.
And yet, young adults from our military families face the same barriers without the same benefits.
Cost is often the counterargument for extending health insurance to young adults in military families. However, what is 40,000–75,000 additional young adults from military families compared to the 5.5 million young adults that have already gained coverage under the ACA from 2010 through September 2015? From my perspective, a drop in the theoretical bucket.
In this same vein, our military represents less than one-half of one percent of the American population, who, alongside their families, have volunteered to serve our nation and protect rights and freedoms they themselves may not receive.
Well, what can we do?
This June, Representative Elaine Luria, D-Va., introduced, with bipartisan support, the Health Care Fairness for Military Families Act (H.R.7176), which would allow TRICARE dependents to remain on their parents’ policy until the age of 26 without a premium increase. This switch could save military families more than $4,000 a year and accelerate our economy by releasing a massive burden stifling a portion of the next generation of professionals.
In a statement, Representative Luria said, “During this public health emergency, it is more important than ever to provide our service members and their families with affordable and accessible health care.”
Despite Luria’s bill being introduced in the House six months ago, it has yet to be considered by the House Armed Services Committee.
Since our country’s infancy, our military has served us — voluntarily, courageously and blindly. As we close out this year’s open enrollment season, I invite fellow Americans to return the favor by simply asking ourselves this question: is this where we want to cut corners?