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If the Supreme Court Rejects Health Care, I (And Millions Like Me) Am Screwed

I’m one of millions of young Americans who may finally be able to get health insurance in the next few years if the Affordable Care Act is not struck down.
 
 
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Two years ago, on my 21st birthday, I reached two big milestones. The first was a gift — I was finally old enough to purchase some Merlot whenever I saw fit. The second was quite the penalty — I was too old to continue to receive health insurance from the government.

I was raised in a low-income, single-parent household, and so the lovely state of New Jersey had paid for my health insurance while I was growing up. In most states, government health programs stop covering individuals on their 19th birthday, but I guess I was fortunate enough to be born in such a gracious state that delayed my cut-off for two years.  

Since then, I have often joked about not having health insurance to repress my anxiety (“Remember guys, if I get hurt doing this do not take me to the ER!”). People try to surprise me with good news: “Alyssa, did you know Obama’s Affordable Care Act allows people under 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance?” I do know about the Act, but my mother’s health insurance doesn’t come with dependent coverage and the state dropped my coverage at 21.

Fortunately, I’m healthy right now. But it’s still nerve-racking to know that if I ever did need health care, I would either have to go without it or charge it on my credit card and hope I don’t end up like those who’ve had to declare bankruptcy — 62 percent of them due to medical expenses. While reading a new survey published this month, I was fascinated to learn that I was not alone.

The survey, published by the Commonwealth Fund, tracked health insurance among young adults. The survey, titled “ Young, Uninsured, and in Debt: Why Young Adults Lack Health Insurance and How the Affordable Care Act is Helping,” found that two in five young adults (ages 19-29) did not have health insurance for all or part of the period between November 2010 and November 2011.

The study found that young adults from low-income households, like me, were most at risk of having a gap in their health insurance. In fact, 70 percent of young adults with incomes under 133 percent of the federal poverty level ($14,484 for a single person and $29,726 for a family of four) did not have health insurance for all or part of 2011.

Sara Collins, one of the authors of the study and vice president of the Commonwealth Fund, said the survey was conducted to learn more about the issue of young adults being uninsured.

“We know this is one of the most at-risk groups of not having health insurance coverage and so we’ve been tracking it over time,” she said.

Unsurprisingly, of those young adults who were uninsured, 60 percent said they didn’t get health care because they couldn’t afford it. I did a little research on the health care costs for myself, and the cheapest plan I found was a whopping $252 a month — and that was without dental, vision or accident coverage. Plus, with jobs hard to come by, paying for coverage is just not an option for me and many others. Indeed, 11 percent of young adults in the survey said they were unemployed but looking for work.

“It really reflects the way in which the health insurance system has been traditionally structured, which is that your likelihood of having coverage is really dependent on whether you have it offered through a job,” Collins said.

Those who dared to take care of their health found themselves in financial burdens. Fifty-one percent of uninsured young adults and 36 percent of all young adults reported problems paying medical bills or said they were paying off medical debt.