Quinn Lester – Pomona ’13
A quick glance at the news recently would show that healthcare reform is the biggest issue in the country. Our present system leaves millions uninsured, and millions more with inadequate coverage, destroys the financial security of many families, and leads to thousands of easily preventable and unnecessary deaths each year. As President Obama said in his speech to a joint session of Congress on September 9, “Our collective failure to meet this challenge — year after year, decade after decade — has led us to the breaking point.” The time for action is now.
The Obama administration has already addressed several groups directly – senior citizen groups, industry leaders, union leaders, etc. – and asked for their help in drafting healthcare reform. One group conspicuously absent from this list is the millions of young adults in the country, the same demographic that helped Obama into the White House. Any healthcare reform bill on the table right now promises to drastically impact their quality of healthcare throughout their lives.
According to the Lookout Mountain Group, a nonprofit set up specifically to investigate how healthcare reform will affect students, there are an estimated 4 million uninsured students in this country. Conservatively, this estimate equals 25 to 30 percent of all students in four-year and graduate institutions. By including two-year institutions an even higher number of students are left without health insurance.
Of those students at four-year or graduate institutions with insurance, 20 to 30 percent are severely underinsured. The problems for underinsured students include inadequate access to primary healthcare, access to mental health professionals, high deductibles that compete with already high student loan and credit card debt, and failure to meet the current standards of Medicaid. Of those students who currently have adequate insurance, many risk losing their coverage as they progress through college. A large portion of students are covered by their parents’ employer-based plans, with any change in the status of the student or the parent’s employment suddenly leaving the student with no coverage at all.
Students who are uninsured or underinsured face many of the same problems that the general population faces with the current health insurance system. Students may put off treatment for their illnesses, not take the prescriptions necessary to treat their illness, or not seek preventative care, such as immunizations and routine check-ups. Another dire problem is that many students may not seek mental healthcare. Often college mental health services are inadequate for addressing all students’ needs, instead referring students to outside institutions. Uninsured students do not have the luxury of going to these outside services, and therefore forgo treatment. As several incidents within the past few years have shown, particularly the Virginia Tech shootings of 2007, access to mental healthcare is crucial on campuses nationwide, and no student should be denied the treatment they need for a healthy life merely because they cannot afford insurance.
Aside from the risk to students’ physical and mental health, being uninsured can also pose a significant financial burden. Ironically, many students are forced to pay medical bills when they cannot even afford insurance in the first place, and in the case of a catastrophic illness or accident paying the full cost can be debilitating. Students, forced to choose between paying their medical bills and paying their college tuition or loans, are often left with no alternative but to drop out of college.
While the specifics of the final plan for health care reform are unknown certain key features are becoming clear. It will be mandatory for all individuals to have health insurance, with those who opt out paying a large fine every year. Health insurers will not be able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions or abruptly cancel customer’s health plans. There will be some kind of government safety net for individuals not covered by employer health plans, Medicaid, or Medicare. Whether the exact form of this government aid will be a public option, private co-op, or something else entirely is unclear at the moment.
However, universal mandates may not be the best option for students when it comes to acquiring health care. If health care reforms fail to make insurance cheap enough for young adults, many may continue to opt out of health insurance. Yet with individual mandates in place, many young adults, stuck between not qualifying for government aid and not being able to afford private insurance, could find themselves with the added expense of a fine every year in addition to being uninsured.
Whatever the final form of health care reform is, it will most likely heavily rely on youth involvement to maintain it. Young adults rarely use health insurance to the degree that their parents and grandparents do, and, depending on the final plan, could end up shouldering a large part of the financial burden of health reform. There is also the concern that reform will not go far enough to give them adequate coverage. To avoid these two extremes, it is crucial that young adults make their voices heard in the healthcare debate, to ensure that reform that gives everyone the best chance for good health and financial security is successful.
Recently, The Democrats of the Claremont Colleges canvassed door to door in order to drum up support for health care reform. It was the most successful canvas in all of California that weekend. They would love to have more people come out and help. The Democrats of the Claremont Colleges meet every Tuesday at 10pm in Beckett Lounge at CMC. People seriously interested in working off-campus to organize for health care reform should contact Maria Tucker at email@example.com for more information about events in the Claremont area.
Sources: Shailagh Murray, “Young Adults Likely to Pay Big Share of Reform’s Cost”, September 16, 2009, The Washington Post.
Analysis and Policy Recommendations for Providing Health Insurance and Healthcare Services for the College Student Population, Lookout Mountain Group, June 2, 2009.