Coverage for kids of feds will wait

WASHINGTON — Many parents breathed a sigh of relief when they heard that health insurance companies were opening up coverage to young adult children under the new health care law. However, lots of others — including those whose parents work for the federal government — probably won't be able to get that coverage until next year.

The federal employee health insurance program has announced that it's unlikely this year to offer young adults the ability to remain on their parents' policies until the age of 26. That means the government, which is the largest employer in the nation, won't follow the lead of some private insurance companies that will begin offering such coverage to young adults by June 1.

The health care law passed last month requires insurers to offer to keep adults younger than age 26 covered through their parents' health plans. That provision goes into effect in September, although for many insurers the change won't occur until the new plan year, which generally starts in January.

Last week United Healthcare, WellPoint, Humana, independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans and Kaiser Permanente said they'll offer such coverage immediately or by June 1. That came as a relief for many young adults, including those slated to graduate this spring who faced a loss of coverage.

The Office of Personnel Management website says that young adults whose parents are enrolled in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, which covers more than 8 million people, would most likely not be able to receive such coverage before Jan. 1.

Experts say parents should take a close look at their policy or contact their employers' human resources departments.

Eligibility may depend largely on what kind of insurance the parent has:

* Individual or family coverage purchased directly from an insurance company.

* Coverage provided by an employer that buys the insurance policy from an insurance company. These firms are called "fully insured."

* Coverage provided by an employer that pays the medical bills itself. These companies are "self-insured." Most large companies offer insurance this way.

The offers made last week by the insurance companies would apply to individual or fully insured plans.