By Linda Ricci & Tasha Williams
While most young adults don’t know it, they are the “young invincibles” in the eyes of health insurance companies, hospital executives and the public opinion pollsters who test the attitudes of young people ages 18 – 29. According to the pollsters, these “invincibles” think they will never get sick, never have an accident, and that health insurance is not for them.
Guess again. One in six young adults nationally has a chronic illness like cancer, diabetes or asthma, according to statistics from to the United States Employee Benefits Security Administration. Yet, nationally, almost one-third of young adults are uninsured. This rate is higher than any other age group. This is an enormously high proportion of the 1.1 million uninsured people New York State intends to enroll in these new, affordable health care plans available under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Among the most important things for all uninsured people to understand about the Affordable Care Act is, in fact, that it is affordable. The New York Health Benefits Exchange, the state government body that serves as a market place for these new insurance plans, released figures about the cost of health insurance premiums in July. The cost of these premiums on the exchange is cut, in some instances, by as much as 50 per cent.
There is significant financial help available for low- to moderate-income people. This assistance is available on a sliding scale depending on income level and extending into the middle class. Individuals with annual incomes up to approximately $45,000 are eligible for financial assistance. The same is true for families with annual incomes of as high as $92,000.
Uninsured people can start to sign up for these new insurance plans on October 1 through the New York Health Benefits Exchange, The affordability and quality of coverage of these new plans is among the things the Exchange will seek to emphasize when it launches its advertising campaign toward the end of the summer to encourage enrollment. The Exchange is especially interested in reaching young people, not only because of their need for coverage, but because, for President Obama’s health care reform to work, the young need to be part of it. This is something that, in health policy parlance, is called the “risk pool” where the younger and healthier sign up to balance out those more in need of health care.
But, let’s say you’re a skeptical “young invincible”, what’s in it for you?
You Can Be Covered by Your Parents Until Age 26
Among the most significant thing for young adults is that they can now stay on their parents’ policies until age 26. Before the ACA, young adults could be dropped as early as age 19. Thanks to the new law, in the past three years, 3.1 million more young Americans now have insurance and 160,000 of them are in New York State, according to HHS. And even young adults under 26 years old who are married, not living with their parents, or not financial dependents, are included.
“Hey, You Never Know”: Seeing The Doctor
A few years ago, the New York State Lottery had the slogan “Hey, You Never Know” referring to a possible windfall if you play Lotto. Well, “Hey, You Never Know” also applies to your health. You may not think you need to see the doctor, but it’s a pretty good idea to find out if you’ve got a health problem, like diabetes, a sexually transmitted disease or other rare diseases like cancer, which don’t often afflict young people, but have terrible consequences when they do. Plus, asthma is endemic problem in the African-American community, and a doctor’s care can make the difference between life and death.
Doctors’ visits are one of ten required health benefits that the all health insurance plans to are required to cover under the new law. In fact, you can have an annual check-up at no out-of-pocket cost. Access to other doctors’ visits do require a co-pay, but they are guaranteed under all plans.
The Emergency Room
Active in sports? Break a bone? Hit by a car? Enough said about the emergency room, another one of the ACA’s required health benefits.
Insurance plans now have to cover birth control with no out-of-pocket expense. The difference that low-cost birth control can make to the lives of young women, and young men, is immeasurable. Family planning is available too, helping young women plan the intervals at which they have children, so essential for them to achieve their goals and aspirations
There are a large range of free preventative services available, some of which, like mammograms and colonoscopies, are more relevant to those over age 40. However, other benefit apply, in particular, when it comes to the interests and needs of young adults. These services include HIV testing and counseling for sexually transmitted diseases.
Preventative services, including many of the services listed below, are, again, required by the new law.
Although lung cancer is generally a disease that occurs later in life, we all know its primary cause is smoking which, for many, starts early. Smoking can also cause respiratory diseases like emphysema and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) which can be fatal.
Even if you start smoking early, you can stop early too and significantly reduce your risk of developing lung disease.
While smoking tends to take its toll over time, the damage caused by using illegal substances can be immediate. It’s no surprise illegal drugs can ruin relationships, jeopardize your employment, and derail your life. And, at its worse, addiction to narcotics can be fatal.
People of all ages can need mental health services, but young adults to be more open to counseling to cope with the many stresses of life. Eating disorders tend to affect the young, and are just one example of the need for mental health services.
There is counseling for women who are victims of domestic violence. It’s important to understand how to end the physical and mental abuse women may suffer from, and counseling provides many a way out.
Health insurance is essential for what we think of as health security, but many people, especially the young, tend to ignore the damage that being uninsured can do to your financial security. It not only endangers your health, it puts your finances at risk too.
Nearly half of uninsured young adults report problems paying medical bills, according to the U. S. Employee Benefits Security Administration. And the majority of all bankruptcies nationally are the result of unpaid medical bills. Don’t take a chance with you and your family’s future. Get yourself insured and make yourself financially secure.
And Fighting Health Disparities for Young and Old
Here’s an eleventh good reason to love the ACA, for reasons that benefit not just the young, but the African-American community as a whole. These include funding to increase Medicaid, significantly expand Community Health Centers, and increase the collection of data about disease and treatment among different races and ethnicities, a way to strengthen the government programs that combat health disparities.
The ACA benefit with the broadest reach is the expansion of Medicaid. New York is one of several states expanding its Medicaid coverage, which will extend up to 133 per cent of the poverty level. This means that households of four earning just over $30,000 will be eligible for Medicaid, which provides free health care. Nationally, nearly half the uninsured – some 20 million people — are living in households at or below 133 per cent of the poverty level, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). While not all will be helped because not all states have decided to raise the threshold for Medicaid coverage, that figure shows the extent of the need and of the potential for change.
Also essential to Harlem and other minority communities are Community Health Centers. They predominantly provide screening and primary health care services, for free or on a sliding scale. More than one-quarter of their patients are African-American, also according to the NCSL. By providing $11 billion to Community Health Centers over the next five years, the ACA will enable these health centers to double their number of patients to 40 million by 2019.
And, the ACA mandates the federal government to collect data on health disparities on a widespread basis. Research and analysis such as this is the very thing that leads the federal government to allocate greater funding and design more effective government programs to reduce health disparities.
As a high-uninsured community, Harlem has a special interest in the success of the Affordable Care Act, as do so many communities of color. Yes, there are at least ten good reasons to love these new, affordable health insurance coming soon – but it’s only really worth loving if uninsured people sign up for it, use it, and find themselves living healthier lives because of it.
There is a new grassroots volunteer organization, Get Covered New York, working in Harlem and other high-uninsured communities across New York City to raise awareness that new health insurance options are coming soon and that sign up period starts on October 1.
Get Covered New York is staffs tables at street fairs and community events, such as the recent Great Day in Harlem festival, and offers to connect uninsured individuals to certified New York State experts who can enroll them in the plan of their choice.
If you want more information about signing up for this new, affordable health insurance, you can go to Get Covered New York’s website: www.getcovered-newyork.org