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Ask the Health Insurance Expert

I'm only 24 years old and in good health. My employer doesn't offer health insurance benefits and I don't want to spend the money on an individual policy. But I heard that it's now against the law. Is that true?

You're not required to purchase health insurance yet. But beginning in 2014, you will be required to have a health insurance policy or you will face a stiff federal tax penalty. Congress included the mandate in the health care reform law in order to create a large enough pool of policyholders to spread risk among healthy and unhealthy people; in 2014 insurance companies will be prohibited from denying insurance for pre-existing conditions.

If you decide to go without health insurance in 2014, you'll face a yearly tax penalty. However, if you don’t make enough income to pay taxes or would have to spend 8 percent or more of your income on the lowest-cost health insurance plan, you won’t be charged a penalty.

If you don't have health insurance through your employer in 2014, you'll be able to purchase insurance through a state insurance exchange, a one-stop shop for consumers and small-business owners to compare and purchase health coverage.

For more, see health care reform.

Meanwhile, it's still a good idea to have health insurance, even if you're young and healthy. You never know when you might get a serious illness or have an accident. Save yourself from years of potential medical debt, and get insurance quotes for individual health coverage; you should be able to get a decent rate at your age and in your condition.

Also if your parents have insurance, you might want to ask your mom or dad to list you as a dependent. A provision of health care reform that went into effect in September 2010, allows adult children (up to age 26) to be listed as dependents on their parents' policies as long as they don't have access to coverage through their own jobs.

For more, see 6 health insurance myths.

Last updated: Jan. 5, 2011