In New Jersey, you can be a kid until you're 30 — or at least you can be a dependent on a parent's health insurance plan.
The "age of dependency" — when young adults can no longer be covered under parents' insurance — is becoming a moving target as states aim to reduce the number of residents who have no insurance.
A new law in New Jersey, which takes effect in May, raises the age to 30, the oldest in the nation. But six other states — Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas and Utah — also have expanded coverage in the past couple of years to 24, 25 or 26.
The New Jersey law allows a parent to cover the insurance premiums for an unmarried adult child under age 30 who lives in-state and doesn't have children. Unlike most states that raised the dependency age or are considering it, New Jersey doesn't require the child to be in school or live with the parent. Colorado's law, which took effect in January, also doesn't require full-time school enrollment to qualify.
Several other states, including Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts and New York, are considering similar measures, says the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Most employer-related medical coverage cuts off children at age 19, unless they're in school, in which case coverage may end at graduation or a specified age, often 23.
More than one-third (32 percent) of people ages 19 to 29 in the United States are uninsured.
Young people don't buy insurance because they don't think they'll get sick, says New Jersey state Assemblyman Neil M. Cohen, D-Union, sponsor of the "18 to 30" bill.
He estimates that it could extend coverage to as many as 200,000 young people. It would not apply to those insured by the federal government or in large companies with self-financed insurance.
Standards, such as premium costs for parents, are still being developed. Cohen has estimated the additional premium for an adult dependent at $1,200 to $2,000 annually, but Donald Bryan, director of the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance, says that's "overly optimistic."
Private individual coverage in New Jersey could cost anywhere from $2,400 to $6,000 a year, the department says.
Millie DeSantis of Ridgefield has three sons, ages 25, 22 and 17, at home. The oldest is an architecture student and works part-time. At 23, he was too old for parental coverage and had to find his own.
"We've been helping him," she says. "You can't be without health insurance. That's just not smart."
Her middle son now won't have to find his own coverage.
"We think the New Jersey law is too broad and may have unintended consequences, making coverage for those who are part of employer groups more expensive," says Susan Pisano of America's Health Insurance Plans, which represents 1,300 firms that provide benefits.
But Neil Vance, an actuary with New Jersey's Department of Banking and Insurance, says "there aren't any facts" suggesting the plan would raise employer costs.
The agency's assistant commissioner, Gale Simon, predicts parents will cover their children for their own peace of mind.
"If a child gets sick, they're going to have to pay the cost," she says. "They want to know there's some security."
SHARON JAYSON Asbury Park Press