What do you picture when you think of a 23-year-old? Does the person you picture have health insurance? The number of twenty-somethings without health insurance has been increasing every year since tracking started in 2003. 38% of high school graduates and 34% of college graduates are uninsured for at least part of the year following graduation. That’s a lot of people taking a lot of chances.
Of course there are lots of reasons for the large number of uninsured young people. Medicaid drops dependents once they reach 19 – then they have to qualify on their own as an adult, which is more difficult. Most individual and group health insurance policies drop children once they are no longer full time students, although the rules on that have been changing in recent years. Colorado now allows dependent children to stay on their parents’ health insurance policy until age 25, and many other states have taken a similar position, with some allowing a dependent to remain covered until age 30. Young people – while they do tend to be a pretty healthy group compared with their older counterparts – are much more likely to believe that they don’t really need health insurance. They are also probably the group least likely to be able to afford coverage. When you’re just out of school, trying to find a job and set up house and pay the basic bills – and maybe student loans – health insurance may seem like more of a luxury than a necessity.
Young people who are unable to afford health insurance often go without needed medical care because they can’t afford it. And if disaster strikes and they end up with a serious injury or illness, they may be the group least likely to be able to recover financially – bankruptcy may be the only option, which is a huge bummer when you’re just starting out and trying to build a future for yourself.
Ten years ago when I graduated from college, I needed a short term health insurance policy to cover me for the summer until my Peace Corps service began in the fall. I don’t remember how much it cost, but I do remember that the price was not a big deal at all, even on my part time grocery store job income. That is not the case today. Health insurance can be a major part of the budget, especially if your budget is small to begin with.
The large – and increasing – number of young people who are going without health insurance is another good argument in favor of a universal health care system in this country. Continuing with the “free market” system that we have now is not likely to lead to anything except more and more uninsured young Americans. Unless we have a significant decrease in health insurance premiums, young people will continue to be unable to afford health insurance under our current model, and will continue to go uninsured, putting themselves and their future at risk. A system that covers everybody would give them a much better start into adulthood.