Aetna Inc. and members of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association have joined the effort to get an early start on making dependent coverage continuation benefits available to graduating college students.

Other carriers that have announced plans to offer continuation benefits this spring include Humana Inc., Louisville, Ky. (NYSE:HUM); Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, Calif.; UnitedHealth Group Inc., Minnetonka, Minn. (NYSE:UNH)

WellPoint Inc., Indianapolis (NYSE: WLP), a leading member of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, also will be offering early access to continuation benefits.

The moves mean that graduating seniors who now get health coverage through their parents’ health insurance plans will be able to keep that coverage until they turn 26.

Employers that offer self-insured plans administered by the carriers can decide for themselves whether to offer early access to continuation benefits.

The new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will require plans to let young adults stay on parents’ coverage up until age 26, but that provision will not take effect until Sept. 23.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote to carriers earlier this week to ask them eliminate the access gap.

Some carriers have noted that they already let holders of individual policies keep adult children on their coverage up until age 26. At those carriers, the recently announced changes mainly affect the adult children of partipants in insured group plans.