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Father of autistic son takes advantage of health care law

Viji Sundaram | 2/6/2013, 9:17 a.m.

FREMONT, Calif. — Dr. Albert Wang thanks his lucky stars every day that he is able to provide his 23-year-old autistic son with health insurance and not run into medical debt.

As a longtime physician, he has seen the hardship faced by people who have no health insurance coverage, who put off seeing a doctor until their health gets really bad.

But his son, Lawrence, diagnosed at age 3 with moderate to severe autism, has never been without access to health care because he has been on Wang’s employer-sponsored health insurance plan since he was an infant. And but for the sweeping Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010, Lawrence would have been kicked off his father’s health plan when he graduated from school last year.

A provision in the ACA that rolled out in September 2010 allows children to remain on their parents’ health insurance plan through their 26th birthday. That provision alone has allowed more than 3 million young adults like Lawrence to have health insurance nationwide, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a leading source of healthcare research.

At the time the ACA was signed into law, some 15 million young adults were uninsured, according to the Department of U.S. Health and Human Services.

Millions of young adults now covered

A survey by the Commonwealth Fund showed last June that 13.7 million young adults between 19 and 25 stayed on or joined their parents’ health plans in the 12 months ending November 2011. This included 6.6 million who likely would not have been able to do so prior to the passage of the ACA.

The survey also showed that young adults in low- and moderate-income households were most likely not to have health insurance. The lack of insurance had significant health and financial implications for them: 60 percent said they did not get needed health care because of cost and half reported problems paying medical bills or said they were paying off medical debt over time.

Prior to the ACA, Lawrence would have aged out of his father’s health insurance plan when he graduated from school last June. Parents could only cover their children until they turned 19, unless they were disabled, or up to their 24th birthday if they were enrolled in college full time.

Under the ACA, young adults can remain on their parents’ plan up to age 26, even if they are out of school, married or living on their own, if they cannot get health insurance through an employer.

This of course means that young adults “will be free to make choices based on what they want to do, not on where they can get health insurance,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is quoted as saying.

Wang’s eldest daughter, now 27, stayed on his group plan for almost a year after she married.

Insuring young man’s health and future

When Lawrence graduated from school last year, he could have qualified for Medi-Cal, the federal-state funded safety net for low-income people. But Wang said he chose not to enroll him in the program because of the limited number of providers in the network.