I pick on the New York Times a lot, so it’s only fair to give the paper credit when it manages to get something right. In a piece called, “For Uninsured Young Adults, Do-It-Yourself Health Care,” the Times explores why so many 20-somethings are going without health insurance. The paper tells the story of 28-year-old Alanna Boyd, whose bout with diverticulitis landed her in the hospital. By the time all was said and done, she owed over $17k in medical bills.
This is where many publications would launch into a tirade about young people who think they’re invincible and would rather squander their cash on expensive rents and weekend-long drinkings binges than do the responsible thing and pony up for insurance, goddamn it! But, surprisingly enough, the Times eschews this conclusion. The paper quotes a young Bushwick resident who says, “It’s not like I think I’m invincible, I’m 29, the world can’t touch me. It’s the very opposite of that. I’ve got to make rent and eat.” (Well, and then the Times goes and ruins it a bit by ending the article with the story of an unemployed 24-year-old dumbass who decided to take a six-week snowboarding trip, rather than purchase insurance that he may very well need should he continue to indulge his interest in snowboarding.)
For many people I know, this is really what it’s all about. How can you commit to paying several hundred dollars a month to health insurance when you’re: A) not making enough money to cover that and your essentials and–don’t forget–tens of thousands of dollars in college loans or B) are scared we can’t count on the money we do earn, as the economy is so fucked that who knows whether our income sources will all dry up, all at once? We know we’re playing a dangerous game, but we have no choice but to play it.
Now, I’ve gone without health insurance for about six weeks now, since my graduate student policy expired. And actually, this article (along with my father’s constant refrain about how 90% of American bankruptcies are caused by unpaid medical bills) finally scared me into seriously looking into insurance. As the article notes, you have to earn under $706 a month to qualify for Medicaid. But there are other options. New Yorkers, if you earn under $2,257 a month, you’re eligible for Healthy New York, a program that allows you to buy insurance for as low as $200 a month. The nice thing about Healthy New York, which I’m in the process of signing up for, is that you only have to submit proof of income once a year, so if your earnings go up mid-year (as I seriously hope mine will), you can hang onto your policy until next year’s re-evaluation.
One last thing: The article mentions that Gov. Paterson wants to allow parents to claim offspring up to the age of 29 as dependents for insurance purposes, so that more young people will be covered. Apparently, about half of states already do this. As unhappy as it would make me to be a dependent, I would sign on in a second if it meant affordable insurance. But what’s troubling about the idea is that the solution is clearly intended for the middle classes. What about the young people whose parents don’t have insurance, either?