RICHARDS: Talk about health care, before you get sick

Amy Richards

It’s easy to ignore the current health care debate: it makes us dizzy, anxious and can incite a migraine just thinking about it. If health care is supposed to be helpful, why does it hurt so much to try to comprehend? We hear about comprehensive health care reform and the 2,000 page “bill” everyday, but the politics of the debate often mask the aspects of health care reform that affect college-age students and young adults most immediately. Health care reform is devoted to providing care for the group of Americans that has “fallen through the cracks” of coverage. It turns out that young adults represent a large portion of this group, making the health care debate largely about us.

Young adults today make up one-third of the uninsured population of the United States. This is due in part to the inaccessibility of insurance, an inability to afford coverage and our youthful self-assurance that tells us we are simply invincible. In fact, we have been named the “Young Invincibles” of the debate out of the attitude that young people do not wish to pay expensive health care premiums if it is not compulsory.

However, health care matters for us all, no matter how young, resilient and accident-free we might currently be. We college-age individuals will soon be uncovered, or perhaps already have been, and will step into the unpredictable world of uninsured accidents and sicknesses that are the inevitable reality of living and getting older.

But we’re not old yet, and we can go to the Villanova Health Center when we get sick, so why does health care reform really matter? Although we generally consider ourselves in good health and without need of insurance, our age group has the highest rate of injury-related emergency visits. Moreover, 15 percent of us have already been diagnosed with a chronic health condition that demands regular treatment, doctor’s visits, prescription medicines or a combination of the three, according to Young Invincibles’ Web site.

Aside from physical troubles, we are plagued with mental health issues, with one in 10 college-aged students suffering from major depression or anxiety. Students are afflicted by swine flu, STDs, fender-benders, viruses bred in residence halls, sports-related injuries, impacted wisdom teeth and VEMS-worthy drinking accidents. Yet we believe we have exceptional health in both body and mind.

In reality, we are quite dependent on health care and have been our whole lives. For those of us who currently do not or will not have affordable, quality coverage in the near future, we will either face the physical repercussions or eat the cost of health care and suffer with the debt. Many students already have a pre-existing condition that excludes them from the health insurance they might soon seek. Still, most of us are covered right now and expect to be covered by an employer after graduation.

However, only 53 percent of us will even be eligible for the health insurance offered by future employers, according to Young Invincibles’ Web site. Meanwhile, another portion of students will not be employed at all or will be studying after graduation without a way to afford health care. We have only a few years to take the health care that is so near and dear to us for granted before necessity demands our involvement in health care reform.

So what are our options? The light at the end of the tunnel points at the greater variety of options our generation will be offered, which include a public option offered by the government, an instrument for inducing competition among insurance companies that will want to better serve us by making coverage affordable and will be unable to deny us for pre-existing conditions. With a current administration that focuses on providing for all, students and young adults have a greater shot at obtaining the health care they need. Yet, it is still left to be determined what the costs to young people will be.

The young adults who are not covered now still worry that paying any insurance premiums at all will be too expensive, that they will need much cheaper coverage if having health insurance becomes mandatory. Similarly there will be a general concern about the ability to continue to see their family doctor or being able to afford their medications that are currently subsidized by BlueCross/BlueShield or the like.

The bill that recently passed through the House offered more good news to young people, that we may stay on our parents’ insurance until our 27th birthday. For those of us whose parents do not have coverage or who are independent, our options will include accessing local clinics and community services or generic programs that are offered at pharmacies. Although prices have not yet been determined, students and graduates can hope to access more affordable care for more basic coverage that is tailored toward a younger, healthier population.

As college students, we are guilty of taking our health for granted. Often it takes a catastrophic accident or serious diagnosis for us to realize the importance of our body’s health and the significance of proper coverage.

Before we succumb to the whims of fate, we must be invested in the current debate and the reform that results, so we can access the health care we need for preventive care instead of finding ourselves lost and out of luck when we need “sickcare” the most.

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Amy Richards is a senior honors, Spanish and global interdisciplinary studies major from Kings Park, N.Y. She can be reached at [email protected]