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3.1 million people are newly insured because of a provision in the Affordable Care Act that lets young adults to stay on their parents’ health care plans up to age 26.

That is amazing. I graduated four years ago, and I saw the fallout firsthand of a bad economy and a generation of young people losing their health insurance. For a while, I was one of them. So were most people I knew.

Health insurance came to a screeching halt at graduation, or a few months after for the very lucky. When the insurance ran out, it ran out, and there was usually no replacement. Conversations with friends turned constantly to free clinics, how to find cheap birth control, whether or not a troubling health malady warranted a several hundred dollar trip to the doctor. Don't break a bone, don't get pneumonia became a mantra. We crossed our fingers, knocked on wood, took our multivitamins religiously. Pre-existing conditions rattled us, treatment for issues that required treatment, mental or physical, became sporadic or nonexistent. It was terrifying. In a haze of job hunting, student loan payments, new adulthood, we struggled. We didn't see our doctors. We kept coughs and fevers much too long. We ended up in the emergency room; we watched staggering bills stack up with ominous red lettering across the envelopes. Debt collectors called us. Don't break a bone, don't get pneumonia. Don't get the flu. Don't get anything. Stay healthy, or else.

A few months ago, I attended a rally in San Francisco to celebrate the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. A young woman told the harrowing story of the uninsured years she spent with a serious health condition. She couldn't afford doctors and spent years in serious pain, trying to track down homeopathic remedies, supplements, anything to make it go away. By the time she got health insurance, her fertility had been compromised by a condition that, had she been able to afford treatment, she could have fixed years ago. She'll never be able to have kids. When she choked up as she spoke, she wasn't the only one.

3.1 million newly insured young people is a triumph. It's 3.1 million people who can see a doctor. It's 3.1 million people who don't have to live in fear. It's 3.1 million people who can get the treatments they need.

One of those people is Ashley Drew, a young woman with cystic fibrosis. Her condition requires her to spend a lot of time in the hospital for various treatments, and that hospital time adds up financially: One month in the intensive care unit cost Ashley $144,000 dollars. Because of the Affordable Care Act, she's able to stay on her parents' insurance. As she waits for a lung transplant, she doesn't have to worry about her health care running out, or about having to find the money for her treatments. "The Affordable Care Act makes it so CF (cystic fibrosis) doesn't define me," says Ashley.

Not having health insurance as a young adult is not a personal failing. It's not indicative of laziness or selfishness or the myriad of other unfortunate labels thrust upon Millenials, many of whom are working and striving and still not receiving the benefits they need to take care of their health. Employers are increasingly not providing health insurance, especially for entry level and low wage positions, often filled by young adults. We should not pay the price (with our health) for an economic trend that is beyond our control.

The health of Ashley, me, and all our nation's young adults depends on provisions like this in the Affordable Care Act. By keeping young people like us insured, we have the breathing room we need to find jobs and pursue our dreams without jeopardizing our health. If you're a young person looking for more information on how to stay on your parents' health insurance, or for more information on how to get coverage, click here for Health Care Tips for Young Adults, a post I wrote for our Wellness Wednesday series. You can also find more information by visiting the Young Invincibles and Healthcare.gov. And if you have a story about your experiences with health care and health reform, share it with us by clicking here.

 

 


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