A Public Service Announcement: Young People and the Affordable Care Act

Apr 25, 2011 No Comments

Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin and the Office of Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

By Paula Villescaz

This March marks the one year anniversary of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as the 2010 Healthcare Reform Bill. The bill brought sweeping provisions to an American healthcare system very much in need of change. It includes the expansion of Medicaid plans to the poor and unemployed, a ban on denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and abolition of the lifetime benefit caps imposed by most, if not all health insurance plans. Its effects will be felt the most and the longest by the demographic who is least likely to take advantage of its most immediate benefits – young adults. What follows is my own story—just one of millions of examples of the importance of young adults being covered by a health insurance plan.

In October of 2009, I began experiencing excruciating lower back pain. By the following January, shortly after celebrating my 21st birthday, I could no longer sit, stand, or walk, and my doctors discovered a tumor in my lower back. After numerous lab tests and biopsies, on March 12, 2010, I was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a rare children’s bone cancer. Soon thereafter, test confirmed that my cancer had metastasized and spread to my lungs. I was given a 15% chance of survival.

A few weeks later, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed. While I cheered for the passage of the historic, law from my hospital bed with my new bald head, I did not yet understand how much it would affect my life. Luckily, as a student at UC Berkeley I already subscribed to the Student Health Insurance Program, and it covered the majority of my cancer-related costs.  But as time went by and I became familiar with the fine print, I realized how much the bill would change my life. At an average of $60,000 per chemotherapy treatment, along with prescriptions and monthly blood tests and transfusions, within a few months I reached my would-be lifetime benefits cap. Thanks to the healthcare bill, I remained covered and completed my full treatment plan, including weeks of radiation therapy and follow up doctor’s visits and tests.

In addition to immediate benefits, the bill’s provisions will help me well into the future. Once I graduate, if I am unable to find health coverage I will qualify to enter the “High Risk Pool” of insurance coverage created by the State of California. Furthermore, starting in 2014 insurance companies will no longer be able to deny me coverage based on my pre-existing condition.

The bill does not just help young people like me who are already sick. Now, all of my peers will be able to stay on their parent’s health insurance until the age of 26. Graduates today face many tough questions, further complicated by the recession: Should I go to graduate school? Should I find a job? Will mom and dad really let me move back in? Fighting and paying for a serious illness is not at the top of this list. However, I am living proof that getting sick can happen without warning to anyone at anytime.

For young people, understanding how insurance works and how the law impacts them may sound complicated. For this reason, we need to use the resources of non-profits across the country to be well-informed. One such non-profit is Young Invincibles, a national organization that provides a graduation toolkit to educate young adults on their healthcare options. This toolkit provides young adults with vital information about how graduates can continued to be covered. The toolkit is available for free at younginvincibles.org/toolkit.

I had the privilege of joining Democratic Leader Pelosi at a press conference celebrating the one-year passage of the healthcare bill, and the opening of a new healthcare clinic in the heart of San Francisco. During the conference a reporter asked me, “How do you expect young people to enroll in insurance plans and take advantage of the new reforms?” My response was simple—it’s up to us. It’s up to you and me to be informed and make sure our peers around us are informed as well. At our age, it is easy to believe that we’ll never get hurt, and that we have years of good health ahead of us, but health crises are blind to age. Life threatening diseases afflict the young and old alike; every year 70,000 young adults, just like me, are diagnosed with cancer, and 215,000 twenty year olds are diagnosed with diabetes, among the many other chronic and acute diseases.

Come May, I will be on the journey of achieving my life ambitions and goals beyond college, complete with an inevitable multitude of stumbling blocks along the way. Thanks to the healthcare bill passed a year ago, being able to afford comprehensive health coverage will not be one of them. By staying informed, proactive, and engaged you can keep yourself covered too.

Spring 2011, Final

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