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“You know what a broken finger looks like, right?” Not words any parent wants to hear, but especially not from this kid. A broken finger could be a true disaster.

Ben (not his real name) started hanging around the house a couple of years ago, when he made friends with my son at a gaming event. He lived about half an hour away and needed a place to crash on the weekend between days of competitions. He was nice, respectful, and helpful around the house. As we got to know him, we learned he was in need of more than a place to crash on the weekends, and invited him to move in with us.

Ben is the 5th of 5 children, with a 20+ year span from oldest to youngest. His father died when he was 9, and his mother worked hard to raise all the kids. By the time Ben hit high school she had serious health problems and was unable to work, getting by on disability and SSI payments. When Ben turned 18, they lost the SSI death benefits from his father, and she was unable to keep her house. She was able to move into the trailer park with her sister, but they had no room for Ben.

Fortunately, he’s a sharp kid. He scored well on his college tests, and was accepted into our local community college with a full scholarship. We live about a mile away, walkable, so he is able to get himself to and from classes. We are hopeful his grades will be good enough to get him a full ride to the 4 year state school nearby, where he can live on campus and start becoming more independent.

The future looks bright for Ben, except for one thing – he needs health insurance. We tried going through Medicaid, and he falls through the cracks. At 18, the state says he should be on the children’s plan, but by 19 he will age out and as a single adult with no dependents he’s not eligible at this time. Ben's situation is exactly why the Affordable Care Act included money to allow states to expand eligibility to childless adults who had low incomes. However, leaders in Tennessee rejected this opportunity (and the funds that went along with it) leaving Ben to spend his small income on his own coverage.

Even so, we are grateful the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides an option for him with the health care exchange. We are working to find a plan, hopefully one with a subsidy, that will provide some basic care with a low deductible and expect to have him covered for next year.

When I first suggested he look into insurance, he wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of having to spend some of his meager income from his part-time job. Then came the phone call, “you know what a broken finger looks like, don’t you?” I was terrified that having to have his finger treated could result in not being able to pay my bills this month, or worse, having to take him to the emergency room and letting him incur a debt he could not possibly pay. Fortunately it was not broken, but the experience shook us both and made clear just how valuable insurance could be for someone just starting out.


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