As a kid growing up in New York, my mom enrolled me in the state’s CHIP program while she went back to school to be a teacher. Once employed, her health plan covered my care until I graduated from college. Then, fortuitously, New York extended coverage to age 29 for qualifying jobless dependents like myself, as long as we covered our own premiums. I had just started my master’s program and the school required that students obtain insurance. A few months later, Obamacare became law and those premiums disappeared from my consciousness, absorbed again by mom’s employer, until now.
I turned 26 this year, and I had to make a decision about where to get my health insurance and how much I was willing to spend. Until then, my insurance decisions were effectively made for me, and I never used the coverage for anything more than stitches, sprains, and sore throats. So why start proactively spending money for care I probably won’t use?
The reason is that I’m not always in charge of my health.
Regardless of the time I spend at the gym, the vitamins I take, or the green lights I wait for to cross the street, chance encounters and split second events can change my life. The person next to me on the trolley can make me sick, as can the food I pick up for dinner. I’ve read enough newspapers to know that accidents happen every day that no one ever saw coming.
Millions of Americans are saddled with medical debt. Not all of them were uninsured. Some reached spending limits, some were kicked off of insurance for certain conditions, some were underinsured, and most were left with no recourse. No one expected it to happen to them.
Now, Obamacare changes that. Spending caps are gone, pre-existing conditions aren’t barriers to coverage, and plans have to meet a minimum coverage threshold. As a new consumer, this is a big deal.
There’s a lot of talk from Obamacare’s opponents about the government getting into the business of healthcare and that insurance is for the deserving who made sure to get a job with benefits. Let’s get one thing straight. The government’s regulation of health is not new and not going to end, no matter what.
Indulge me in a very basic analysis:
When I was enrolled in public school, I had to get a series of vaccines and undergo annual vision and hearing tests. I’m still in school so I can get a job, and each university I’ve attended has forced me to buy health insurance to meet government requirements. When I finally get that job, I know that anywhere I go has to comply with certain health and safety standards so I won’t get sick from my job. And when I’m ready to retire, I hope that Medicare will be there for me. At every stage of life, the government has a profound effect on my health.
But now, we’re at the point where the unemployment rate of young adults is twice the national average. And without jobs, my generation is also leading the pack in lacking insurance. Young and invincible, we hope nothing happens to us until we achieve the American dream of securing a job with health benefits. But our emergency room use is consistent with other age groups, showing that we can get unexpected injuries and illnesses just like anyone else.
I’ve considered October 1st to be a light at the end of the tunnel for me and my peers. With the health insurance marketplace open (and the computer system brought up to speed), we can compare plans and benefit packages with the same ease as making online travel plans. As the keystone to Obamacare, the marketplace allows the rest of the law to function and preserves the marketplace by forcing my generation to play or pay so insurance companies can spread the risk.
So I have insurance for me and for my peace of mind, with the added benefit that by participating in the new marketplace, I am helping it to work so that others can get insurance, as well. My youth and my health may not be sustainable indefinitely, but a program that gets buy-in from all generations can be, if only we all grow up and give it a chance to work.
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