By Gena Akers
My friend Kristie recently told me about a discussion she had with one of her 25-year-old friends. Her story reminded me why it’s so important that our health care system continues to change and improve.
“The other day, I was in an argument with this guy and he was saying that Obamacare should be completely repealed because it is unconstitutional. I asked him who pays for his insurance. He said he did and he didn’t get any government handouts. I told him, ‘Oh, so your job offers affordable health care plans? You’re lucky.’ He said, ‘Well, no, but my dad’s does and I’m covered on that.’ ”
Kristie’s friend has insurance not because the government handed him anything, but because health care reform requires insurance companies to extend coverage to people like him.
Like Kristie’s friend, I am one of 6.6 million young adults who have been able to stay on their parents’ health insurance. Unlike Kristie’s friend, I know the only reason staying on my parents’ insurance is even an option is because elected officials were committed in 2010 to making sure young people like me can see a doctor when we need to and get the care we need to stay healthy.
I’m in the age range some like to call “the invincibles.” We do not often seek health care and we often mistakenly believe we won’t need it.
To be honest, neither of these decisions makes us immune to real health care challenges — we just don’t see health care as a major worry until we’re face to face with real illness or injury.
Recent studies have shown that what folks 19 to 25 years old really fear is debt. Just like older adults the biggest health care barrier we face is cost.
The Commonwealth Fund reports that one-third of those ages 19 to 29 reported problems paying their medical bills. Many respondents had to use all of their savings or found it difficult to pay off other forms of debt, like student loans.
Covering young adults up to age 26 is one of health care reform’s most popular provisions. But, what about health coverage for people that are covered under other, less well-known provisions? What about folks with pre-existing conditions or families of three that make less than $25,390 (133% of federal poverty) a year?
Many people initially believed that without strong federal and state regulations, these individuals would have an increasingly difficult time getting the care they need. Fortunately, in the last few weeks, three major insurance companies have stepped in with a surprise: no matter what the Supreme Court decides, many of the changes wrought by the 2010 healthcare overhaul are here to stay.
Although Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealth Group haven’t promised to continue every important provision of health care reform, such as covering children with pre-existing conditions or insuring sick adults, the announcement sends a clear signal that whether or not the law is repealed, a precedent has been set that will not easily disappear.
The three companies, which cover a combined 48 million customers, have already promised to end retroactive terminations of policies and phase out dollar limits on lifetime benefits. Because of the benefits that real people are receiving from health care reform, people like you have spoken out and insurance companies are getting the message that we don’t want to lose the real gains health care reform has provided.
There is still work to be done, but it’s encouraging to see insurance companies voluntarily changing their practices. When Coloradans can get the care they need, when they need it, we’re all better off in the long run. And, it doesn’t matter if you are 25 or 75 years old.
Gena Akers is the project coordinator for SanLuisValleyHealth.org, an education and advocacy website dedicated to increasing access to health for all residents in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. SanLuisValleyHealth.org is a project of the San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center and funded through The Colorado Trust. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.