What's my major? Health insurance.

College students in classroom.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: I don't know if they just want to get the whole thing over with an hour earlier, or if maybe majority leader Harry Reid's got a plane to catch, but the Senate has moved up its final vote on health care reform. It's going to happen bright and early tomorrow, 7:00, Washington time, instead of the original 8 o'clock on Christmas Eve morning.

The bill that will be voted on tomorrow has become more about insurance reform than anything else -- insurance that the majority of Americans get through their employers. With the economy still struggling and unemployment holding at double digits, a lot of new college graduates can't find jobs -- let alone jobs with health insurance. So some students are getting smart about staying insured.

From KQED, Sarah Varney explains.


Sarah Varney: Sarah Miers listens politely as her classmates stumble through a beginning Portuguese class at Berkeley City College in Berkeley, Calif. Sarah is an eager student, but she doesn't really need to learn Portuguese.

Actually, she'd rather not be in school at all.

Sarah Miers: I graduated from a reputable university with highest honors, double majoring, I had all this work experience and it was like, anybody want it? And no one was interested.

When Sarah couldn't get a job, she decided to take a few classes she'd need for graduate school and prep for the grad school entrance exam. But as a part-time student, she could no longer be insured under her parents' health plan.

Miers: And so they were the ones who were like "If you can't find a job you should think about extending your course load, so that you'd still be insured under us."

Now at community college, Sarah might as well be holding a sign: "Will study for health insurance." No one knows how many students in the U.S. are taking extra courses or enrolling in community colleges just to keep their health coverage. But 16 percent of young adults are unemployed, and about a third are uninsured. That's making community college an attractive option.

Miers: If you look at from a cost perspective, it's so much cheaper to be a full-time student.

Sarah would pay $200 to $300 a month for an individual policy. Instead, her parents are paying just a few hundred dollars a year to enroll her full-time in community college.

Bill Oye: Where did we come up with this notion about having to be enrolled full time to be eligible for my parent's insurance?

Bill Oye is dean of student life at Diablo Valley College, a community college in the San Francisco suburb of Pleasant Hill. He says most students have full- or part-time jobs just to afford car insurance, gas and rent. Carrying a full course load just isn't possible.

Oye: If you just do the math of that, that begins to make it really difficult for students to be successful, and to have a competitive GPA and all those full time units, to stay on their parent's health insurance.

Health care reform would change that. Children could remain on their parents' insurance until they turn 27, whether they were in school or not. The new policy would take effect immediately after the bill is signed.

That would come as a welcome relief for Arielle Laner. She'd planned on taking a year off between high school and college, but now, she's in her first semester at Diablo Valley.

Arielle Laner: I was making a list of all that I could do while I took that gap year.

Arielle is disabled with a form of childhood cancer that left her in leg braces. She couldn't get insurance on her own, so she's going to school full time so she can stay on her parents' plan.

Laner: Being thrust into school not knowing what my goal from school to be yet, was not the right decision for me. And I feel like I would be more sure of who I am and who I was going to be, if I was able to explore that a little bit more by travelling or working.

Instead, Arielle travels everyday from her home to the classroom.

In San Francisco, I'm Sarah Varney for Marketplace.

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