I am characterized both by healthcare reformists and my mama as a ”Young Invincible.” At twenty-three years old, I am a recent college graduate working to get my career started while still trying to squeeze some reckless fun out of my Friday nights. Faced with more new “adult decisions” than I care to admit, I have quickly decided that “invincible” is certainly not how I feel. One topic that has been a complete mystery to me (and many people my age) is what the Affordable Care Act means for people just starting their careers. “Healthcare for all” is the extent of my knowledge so I decided to dive a little deeper to figure out what the bottom line meant for me.
Young people (individuals between the ages of 18 and 35 as defined by the ACA) are very important to keep the insurance exchange healthy. Younger people, on average, have far less healthcare costs so their premiums help subsidize the older population. Makes sense. Government officials predict that around 40% of the individuals enrolled in the ACA would need to be young people in order to make the system work. As of January 13, 2014, 23% of the individuals participating in the exchange are people between 18-35 years old. This could be a problem if more people in my age group don’t enroll before the March 31 deadline. I think the numbers will stay down, and let me tell you why.
What I found out is that someone my age with my level of income would likely pay a premium of about $150/month with a deductible between $2500-$5000. I do not qualify for a subsidy because of my employment status. Total annual out of pocket healthcare costs will likely be $5000 or more.
That’s going to be a problem for me and for a lot of people like me. I’m lucky to have a job and no school loans to pay off. But for most of my peers, that’s just not the case. The average student debt for 2012 college graduates was $29,400. Estimates also indicated that up to 46% of those graduates are under-employed or still seeking work. The economy is rough, employment is hard to find, and then there’s rent, food, car insurance and student loans to pay off. The camel’s back has been broken.
So how do I, or any of the millions of young adults like me feel about buying healthcare? It sounds great but we can’t afford it. For the next few years, I’m willing to take an unfortunate calculated risk and hope that I don’t need any serious care. I will pay the uninsured penalty, grit my teeth and pray.
Friends and family who know me well have pointed out a serious flaw in my plan. While $5000 in out of pocket healthcare costs is a lot, its nothing compared to what a medical bill could look like if I get seriously injured or ill. We have all heard horror stories about freak accidents or uncommon illnesses that leave friends or family in the hospital for days or even weeks. In addition to the trauma of going through the ordeal, a six-figure hospital bill adds insult to injury.
But for many young people it’s a moot point to remind them about how much a serious health issue could cost without insurance. If I don’t have five grand for healthcare, I certainly don’t have fifty grand either. It’s not a matter of being so arrogant that I don’t think I can get hurt or ill; on the contrary, I think that if anyone is going to get into a freak tree climbing accident it’s probably going to be me. I simply can’t afford it. The harsh reality is that young people are burdened with limited or nonexistent employment opportunities, debt and a host of other expenditures that they will choose to put before healthcare almost every time. Invincible is the wrong adjective to describe people like me. Maybe “Young Fearful” would be a better name.