February 18, 2009

Pot Smoking, Snowboarding, and Opting Out of Health Insurance

A few years back my twenty-something co-worker and I were bored stiff. We had already played hooky from work 7 times to go snowboarding, smoked through a five-pound bag of pot we kept stashed with the extra reams of paper in the mailroom, blown our paychecks on iPod paraphernalia, pulled three false fire alarms, filed two fake workplace discrimination claims, and photocopied our asses at least a dozen times.

Staring into our Cup-o-Soups, my co-worker had a brilliant idea: “Why don’t you resign from your position, I’ll forget to submit your COBRA papers to the government, and then you can get diagnosed with cancer without any insurance.” Dude, how novel, that sounds like fun.

Fact Vs. Fiction
‘Young invincibles’ is a favorite term used by insurance companies, and perpetuated by journalists, that describes slacker twenty-somethings in stories like the one above, who chose to forgo insurance even when they could afford it. But the problem is the story above is actually fictional, as is the notion that twenty-somethings are a tribe of well-fed slacker who don’t want to waste their money on insurance.

I don’t snowboard, smoke pot, photocopy my ass, or own an iPod. I did, however, without planning, get diagnosed with cancer the week that my co-worker forgot to submit my COBRA papers, leaving me completely uninsured. Believe me it wasn’t by choice. Believe me health insurance is unaffordable, with or without a pre-existing condition. Believe me, young adults want insurance, we just cannot afford it. ‘Young Invincibles’ are not the norm. Here’s what is the norm:

  • 46% of young adults report having medical debt, significantly changing their lives to pay medical bills, or being contacted by collection companies because they are unable to pay medical bills.
  • 73% of employed young adult accept health insurance when it is offered to them, only slightly less than the 82% of adults 30 or over.

The Moratorium

So, I’m officially placing a moratorium on the phrase ‘young invincibles’. It appeared both in the New York Times today and on CNN’s website yesterday. I’m taking a vote on what you think the name should be changed to instead:

A. Impoverished kids who get the SCHIP boot when they turn 19
B. Twenty-somethings whose bottom of the career ladder jobs don’t offer benefits and pay next to nothing so they cannot afford the steep costs of health insurance.
C. Undergrad and grad students who are going to school part-time and working part-time and neither offer insurance.
D. All of the above.

Does the term young invincibles piss you off too? How many young adults do you know who do not have health insurance because they choose not to? How many young adults do you know who don’t have health insurance because they cannot afford it or are already in medical debt?

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  1. Christina Says:
    February 19th, 2009 at 3:58 PM

    Kairol – I saw this on CNN yesterday and did not know what the term meant. Now I do, and YES I’m pissed off. I worked full-time plus 2 part-time jobs every day throughout my 20′s and early 30′s. I had to just to keep myself going. But none of those jobs offered health insurance, and of course my crappy paycheck wouldn’t allow my to buy an individual policy on my own. And when I started to get sick at age 33, doctors wouldn’t do anything because I didn’t have insurance, and I could not afford a $4000 MRI scan on $10/hr.
    By age 37 I was finally diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and considered “terminal”. And of course, am now “unisurable”.
    “Young Invincible”, my ASS! Total BS!
    Thanks for writing about this.

  2. Kami Says:
    February 20th, 2009 at 12:12 AM

    I couldn’t agree more. It’s bull crap! I tried to get insurance when I left my job after having a baby but it was totally unaffordable even before my thyroid cancer diagnosis. Now there is not a chance I could afford it. Luckily my community had a program for the “working poor” who weren’t quite low income enough to qualify for other aid, and the plan covered most of my treatment costs. So I am off the hook for now at least. But for the long term? Lets just keep hoping and pushing for something real to change so we can actually all get decent health coverage.

  3. Matt Says:
    March 18th, 2009 at 2:07 PM

    Yep, I’m pretty pissed. Although I was a young invinsible earlier when I was in college under my father’s insurance. I get quite pissed now when I’m working my ass off to get basic coverage for me and, soon, for my future wife(she has pre-exsisting conditions). In fact, I get pissed at anyone in the F-ing generation above us making these BS statements, acting they had it hard growing up, but it is such crap. They really had it ridiculously easy and now we are getting a 10 trillion dollar debt loaded on us so they can continue with there credit-supported and fake high standard of living. I’m not helping them a bit when they retire, and believe me when I lead the charge in getting their SS benfits taken away so our taxes can drop and benefits can go up unless, by some magic, our economy shoots up and I’m making 140k-200k a year like all the lucky bastard 50 plus-ers.

    I’m just praying for good health so I don’t have it as bad as others here. peace and good luck

  4. Sarah Says:
    May 6th, 2009 at 9:36 AM

    I love the subject of health insurance! Gets me all fired up. :)

    I have several friends that are uninsured. Probably because they can’t afford it. However, I know that they also don’t believe that they really need it. That bothers me. I was fresh out of college, had an entry-level position with no benefits and was diagnosed with cancer completely out of the blue. As it always is.

    I think every American would agree that our healthcare system is broken. It SUCKS that people have to make such sacrifices just to afford healthcare. But that’s the way it is right now. I had to cut a lot out of my budget to afford a indivdual insurance policy. But oh my word…I’m so glad I did. It was my saving grace. However, I completely understand that for many people, they absolutely can’t pinch one more penny and insurance is just not an option. Then I get realy angry at the good ‘ol U S of A.

    But what makes me even angrier is when a peer looks at me, a 25 year-old cancer survivor, and says, “But I’m really healthy and I just don’t feel like insurance is a priority. I mean…I never go the doctor anyway.” UGH.

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