Turn your tassel, now the hassle

This year, 1.4 million graduates are tossing their mortarboard caps into the sky and receiving bachelor's degrees.

Almost immediately, many will face another rite of passage: getting dropped from their parents' health insurance.

Most group health plans cover employees' children until the age of 19 – or often up to 23 if they are full-time students. After that, many young adults must put together their own health safety net. But with the economy weakening, and entry-level jobs that offer health coverage harder to find, some recent graduates are coming up with creative ways to protect themselves.

Phillip Ngo was removed from his father's workplace health insurance when he graduated from New York University last year. So the 22-year-old came up with an idea to get back on his parent's plan: going back to college without ever setting foot in a classroom.

Even though he had a bachelor's degree, Ngo enrolled as an online student at his hometown City College of San Francisco, a two-year college. Two days later, he presented proof of enrollment and a class schedule to his father's insurance company, which put him back on the plan.

Young adults are the fastest-growing group of the uninsured, according to 2006 U.S. Census data. And one in three Americans 19 to 29 lacks health insurance, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

At least 18 states have enacted laws that require insurers to allow parents to extend coverage for older dependents, often whether they are in college or not. The Carolinas have not enacted such laws. Ryan Todd, 24, was removed from her parents' policy after graduating from DePauw University in 2006. She currently lives with her parents in California, which allows young adults to continue their health coverage after they graduate. But the state restricts this extended coverage to people who are disabled, making Todd ineligible.

Todd has arranged a patchwork of temporary solutions. She text messages her symptoms for minor ailments to a doctor friend and gets his advice. She takes advantage of free services at Planned Parenthood. And she considers herself fortunate to be healthy. “I don't even make enough money to move out of my parents' house, let alone afford health insurance,” Todd says.

Laura Roeder, 23, opted for a high-deductible policy after she graduated from University of Texas at Austin and started her own freelance Web design business. She pays $60 a month for coverage. But since none of her medical expenses under $5,000 are covered under the policy, she avoids routine visits to the doctor. She copes with colds and the flu by ingesting high-dosage vitamin C drinks.

Ngo says that after graduating from New York University with a theater degree, he “bounced around” between unpaid and low-paid internships and personal-assistant jobs. None offered health coverage. While uninsured, Ngo says he contracted the flu. But fearing a big bill, he didn't seek care. Although he got well on his own, the experience scared him.

Ngo says he got the idea to enroll in a community college in order to get back on his parent's coverage after hearing about the plan from a friend. “I never did anything for class,” Ngo says. “For me, 300 bucks for a semester's health insurance was a good deal.”

In March, he got a job as an assistant to a Broadway producer in New York. After 90 days on the job, he qualified for his employer's health insurance, for which he pays $32 a month. He withdrew from the community college, receiving incompletes for his classes.