Teens and Health Insurance – Part Three in our Special Three-Part Series on Helping Teens Transition into Adulthood
By: Leah O’Gwynn Kackley
Health Insurance. Politically polarizing and financially overwhelming, this part of “becoming an adult” is poorly understood by most teenagers. They know from hearing adults talk that having health insurance is a good thing. However, the breadth and depth of the issue of health insurance is difficult to teach in a meaningful way, unless parents are being very intentional about it.
Why kids should have a working knowledge about health insurance is easy to understand. How to go about helping them to achieve said knowledge without creating unhelpful anxiety takes some out-of-the-box thinking. First things first, when reasonable, let the kids see how much a doctor’s visit costs. Show them the bills. Show them what the doctor charged and ultimately what the insurance company paid. Show them what the co-payment was at the time of the visit. Lead them to an understanding that going to the doctor is necessary and important, but it can throw off that month’s budget. For an older teenager it’s worth considering having him pay his own co-payment to help drive the point home. That isn’t reasonable for all situations or kids, so trust one’s judgment on that. For example, if the teenager is dealing with a chronic illness that is not “fixable” (think cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, etc), then be mindful about sharing information about costs, especially if the child is prone to feelings of guilt. However, knowing that a regular visit to the dentist costs “x” while a cavity filling costs “x+y” could help kids realize that taking care of their teeth is an easy and sensible thing to do. Floss is cheap; dentists aren’t.
Insurance premiums are something that can be overwhelming to parents. It’s hard to know if a teenager is truly capable of understanding the amount of money that is paid every month to cover the family in case of a major illness. However, it’s worth laying it all out anyway. Show your child what the employer is paying and what the parents are paying each month. Compare it to the home or renter’s insurance bills and car insurance bills. Explain in hard numbers how a $50K salary does not mean one is going to be able to spend anywhere near $50K a year after taxes and all the insurance premiums are paid. Again, just like it’s never too soon for a teenager to begin saving and investing, it may be worth looking into having a special allocation of funds for medical needs that the young person manages himself. Guiding him through the process of paying for expenses like that can make it a much more concrete concept. Again, that is something that should be handled mindfully, being careful that the child isn’t unduly stressed about heavy expenses before he is ready.
Having a grateful heart about what parents do by providing insurance is the ultimate goal, followed by an understanding of what it will mean when it’s time to take on that burden for oneself. Getting a basic knowledge of human anatomy and physiology, focused on understanding how all the body’s systems work together, can also help to hammer home the immense importance of eating correctly, exercising daily, sleeping properly and avoiding the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse in order to lower health care costs. The stereotype of a 29-year-old still living in the parents’ basement might be avoided by making sure teens are well educated in the realities of responsible adult life. That’s all we parents can do. After that, it’s up to them.
Leah O’Gwynn Kackley lives, works and homeschools in the Rez/Fannin area with her husband Jason and their three kids.
Answers provided by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi
Anna Grace, 16 y.o.
Q: I am currently on my parents’ insurance plan. How long can I stay under their plan until I need to have my own?
A: “Children can usually remain on their parent’s insurance plan, as a dependant, until they are 26.”
Jeremy, 17 y.o.
Q: I am generally very healthy and never see doctors. Do I still need to have medical insurance?
A: In short, yes! Medical coverage is a must. Even if you’re healthy, you should always have a doctor, like a family doctor you visit each year, so that you stay strong and healthy. Also, if you are sick, you should see a doctor who knows you and knows your medical history. Having medical insurance means you can visit your doctor when you need to and your insurance will help pay for it.
Laura, 17 y.o.
Q: Are there any ways to get discounts or better rates on my health insurance?
A: There are two ways to make the most of health insurance premiums (what you pay each month). Use a Network Provider when you need to see a doctor or other healthcare provider. Health insurance will cover more of the cost of care with a Network Provider or Network Hospital. And stay healthy. Healthier people get sick less often and require fewer trips to the doctor. Avoid extra healthcare costs by staying healthy or becoming healthier by eating healthy foods, exercising and avoiding harmful substances.