Yo, Young People: Get Health Care Insurance
One of the goals of The Center for the Next Generation is to give voice to young people, so we have asked Young Invincibles Co-Founder and Executive Director Aaron Smith to contribute to this blog. Young Invincibles is an important organization representing the interests of 18 to 34 year-olds who are fast becoming a serious voice in public policy debates.
Aaron’s first article, Ideas to Get Young Americans Working focuses on the single most important issue facing most young Americans: finding meaningful work. In this second article Aaron explains how the prohibitive cost of health care has been the number one reason young people do not opt in for coverage. Despite his organization’s name, young people do not go without coverage because they think they are invincible.
Without employment, what options do young people have for affordable health insurance? Please check out Aaron’s article and leave your comments below.
We all know that our broken health care system often fails to serve the needs of American citizens. But few people understood how the health care system impacts young people. Why is it so important that policymakers continue to address the health needs of young people? Why should someone under the age of 26 even bother with health insurance?
While it is true that young people are relatively healthy as an age group, the facts show that they are hardly immune to illnesses or injuries. Going without health insurance can end up threatening not only their health, but any hope of financial security. No one is invincible without health insurance.
In 2010, the number of uninsured young Americans aged 18 to 34 climbed to 21 million, accounting for approximately one third of the total uninsured population. Many people brush off this statistic as evidence that healthy young adults merely choose not to buy insurance. But this is simply not true. Young people do get sick. They have the highest rate of injury-related emergency department visits among all age groups. Fifteen percent of young Americans have a chronic condition. Nearly one in ten report having a mental health condition.
Young adults need health care, and that means they need insurance.
Young people without insurance are likely to be sicker than those who have it. And the inability to have health care insurance can have dire consequences. By one estimate, 5.2 preventable deaths a day occurred in 2000 among adults aged 25 to 34 due solely to the lack of insurance. When young people are injured or get sick, quality medical care can save and drastically improve their quality of life. Medical care makes a huge difference in how quickly people get back to living their lives after an accident or illness. Health insurance can also help young people avoid health concerns before they become major problems, by providing low-cost coverage for preventive care and check-ups with a doctor.
Many young Americans are currently healthy and active, but nobody expects a freak accident that ends with a hospital visit. Uninsured young people are in danger of being bankrupted by bills from an accident or an unexpected medical problem. Youth who need a prescription drug, regular check-ups, or ongoing care face other costs that add up. A hospital bill over $1,000 would cause quite a financial strain for most young adults. Coverage under a parent’s plan or buying a plan in the individual market makes financial sense.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom, young people do not pass on health coverage because they think they're invincible. In many cases, they just can't afford it. Two thirds of people ages 18 to 29 make less than $44,000 a year, and many of their employers do not offer health care coverage. The 23 percent of young adults living below the federal poverty level account for 41 percent of all uninsured young Americans. A Gallup survey confirmed that the main reason young people don't have health insurance is cost, not choice.
Young Americans are not invincible. They need to take personal responsibility for their health and financial well-being, but they can only step up when they have feasible options available to them. Under President Obama's Affordable Care Act (ACA), coverage under their parent's plan, up to age 26, is among the least expensive of all insurance options for families. According to the annual Kaiser Family Foundation survey, already 2.3 million young adults are newly covered since the dependent coverage expansion to age 26 took effect, demonstrating that young adults are recognizing the importance of getting covered. America’s young people are capable of taking on the responsibilities of being independent adults, including getting health insurance, but they still need their representatives in Washington to look out for their needs.
Coverage under a parents' plan is a good start, with even more coverage options starting in 2014. But even those benefits won't matter unless young adults take advantage. Ultimately it is our generation's responsibility to get covered.
Aaron Smith is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Young Invincibles a policy organization representing the interests of 18 to 34 year-olds so that their perspective is represented in decisions concerning their lives.