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From the Editor: 13.2 million young adults uninsured, and no easy answers

September 1, 2009


If it seems to you like health insurance and health reform is the only thing American politicians are talking about lately, you’re not alone.  On the other hand, if you think about how often it comes up as you enter or have entered your early twenties, the topic of health reform seems like less of a broken record and more of an eternal conundrum.

Photo by Vitaly Nikolaev

Photo by Vitaly Nikolaev

I made a joke just the other day that I was walking proof the United States needed health reform (okay, I was only half-joking).  It seems like the $400-plus a month I pay for COBRA coverage, now that I no longer qualify for my mother’s health plan and don’t have benefits with my job, does not guarantee medical services will be paid for, or that I will always get my prescriptions covered the way my policy says they will.

I wish I could say it was just mix-ups with this policy and that health insurance was generally okay.  You see, somehow things just keep going wrong with my coverage, no matter what insurance company or policy I’ve had in my early adult life.  I once had to pay the $180 price of an inhaler I needed the following day because my doctor had a (qualified) assistant write the new prescription instead of writing it himself.  The insurance company would have none of it—until the doctor’s office called and explained.  And then there was the two months where all my claims kept getting bounced back because they suddenly thought I was not a member.  And that statement I just got where my primary care doctor of several months “does not participate” and a $500 deductable appeared out of nowhere.  (For the record, neither of those things are true.)

Still, I’m very, very lucky to have access to coverage.  When my COBRA runs out, there are state-run plans here in New York, such as Healthy New York, that may not be the very best coverage but will still get me my asthma medicine and regular check-ups, not to mention emergency care if I need it.  According to a CNN article this past March, “young adults, ages 19-29, are the largest group of uninsured people across the country.”  Very, very lucky for me.

I guess that figure seems okay to a lot of uninsured young twenty-somethings I’ve talked to, though, who apparently aren’t yet familiar with Murphy’s Law.  They usually cite a reason like “well I’m pretty healthy” or “I never get sick” when rationalizing their lack of insurance.  That works.  Unless you, I don’t know, get hit in the head, fall of a bike, step off a curb the wrong way, or get some ill-prepared food at a restaurant.

Having health insurance is often both unattainable and socially responsible: socially responsible because a few hours in an emergency room equals thousands of dollars, and if you can’t pay it, it’s the hospital that has to eat the bill and nurses, staff and future patients that pay the price; unattainable, because if you are in the magical interim between aging off a parent’s policy after graduation (or losing school insurance coverage) and finding a job, the most anyone can do is wish you luck as they point you to the Department of Social Services, and express their fondest hopes that you qualify.

It doesn’t necessarily get better when you find that first job, either.  According to Sara Collins, a spokesperson for a nonpartisan health care group quoted in the CNN article I mentioned, “only about one-half of all young adults who are working are offered coverage through an employer, compared to about 75 percent of adults who are offered coverage through an employer, over age 30.”  And then there are waiting periods before getting on employer’s insurance, preexisting condition clauses, and so on, and so on…

“It is demonstrably clear that the U.S. health-care system is on an unsustainable path,” writes Fareed Zakaria in the August 24 and 31, 2009 issue of Newsweek. “If current trends continue—and there is no indication that they won’t—health care will consume 40 percent of the national economy by 2050.”  Zakaria also remarks that, historically, the U.S. has had remarkable, efficient and successful responses to crises, but that non-crises, such as the slow, ever-growing problem of health care costs and accessibility of insurance plans, get ignored.

The problem is that this projected consumption of the national economy seems to be taking bites out of twenty-somethings at a much faster rate than other groups.  You may not agree with the current health reform proposals, or the strain a national insurance option would put on our economy at this point in time.  But, looking at the data, you’d have to take notice of one thing: according to the U.S. Census Bureau there are 13.2 million uninsured Americans in that 19-29 age group.  That’s more than any other group, period, and there’s no easy way to correct it.  And there’s not going to be a way to correct it unless people start (calmly and rationally) speaking out with some fresh, new ideas.

Should health care should be a right-of-passage, and do twenty-somethings deserve to be getting the worst health care deal in this country out of all the age demographics surveyed, just because they’re starting out?  If you don’t agree, no matter what side of the aisle you stand on, it’s time to start making some noise.

–keito, the Editor
September 1, 2009

  1. September 3, 2009 8:56 am

    Lucky for me, here in Washington there is Group Health, a ‘consumer run, nonprofit health care’ that was touted as “an alternative to [a] public plan” in this ( NPR story. Of course the difference between ‘public’ and ‘co-op’ is, well, nothing if not thin and blurry.

    That said, I was able to sign up on line last month, was approved within a matter of days, and now I’m paying ~$65 a month for pretty extensive coverage… to find out how extensive however I have to finish reading the 45-or-so page contract they sent along with my insurance card.

    Media likes to make most issues problems of government vs. non-government when most things are solvable by small alliances of people working cooperatively in a not-for-profit way… I’m thinking child care as well as health care. Co-operative child care especially seems like a pretty important part of any future strategy that aims to separate gender from child rearing and end unpaid domestic labor.

  2. Julienne permalink
    September 24, 2009 4:27 pm

    I was just offered a really cool option from my employer. Rather than pay monthly for insurance, I have opted to try a high deductible plan.

    The plan is for those of us who are fairly healthy, with few prescriptions, who usually see the doctor just for routine annual visits. (I should say that Preventive Care is covered for no charge.)

    Worst Case Scenario: at year’s end, I will have paid $1,500 out of pocket – the same amout they would have taken if I paid bi-weekly.

    Best Case Scenario: I save $1,500.

    I’m voting for the latter.

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