Young adults don’t know that they’re going to die. I mean, in theory, of course they do, but when you’re 19 or 23, it just doesn’t seem possible that you could become seriously ill or incapacitated. That’s what happens to old people. Except when it happens to you.
Another thing about young adults. They like to live in cities, and they start out with low-paying jobs. They can’t afford health insurance. And after they get out of college, their parents usually can’t continue carrying their adult children on the parents’ policy. So what do they do? They try to “be careful.” They stretch their medication out, instead of getting more. Sometimes they even set their own broken bones. (NY Times, 2/18)
And other times they have emergencies, real emergencies. Accidents, or life-threatening illnesses. They may end up like Alanna Boyd, 28, who was treated for diverticulitis in Beth Israel Medical Center in New York–she was in the hospital for 40 hours and was billed $17, 398–including $13 for the use of a television. Said Ms. Boyd, “I could have gone to a major university for a year. Instead, I went to the the hospital for two days.”
Or the situation could be much worse, like that of the young adult son of friends of mine. This young man had a suspicious growth that he should have had checked out–but he postponed going to a doctor for six months, because he had applied for health insurance and didn’t want to be found with a “pre-existing condition.” It turns out that he has a melanoma, a form of cancer that is readily curable if treated in the early stages–but deadly if it is left to spread its seeds throughout the body. This boy is going to die–he is now in palliative care, because nothing more can be done.
Our young adults are the largest group of medically uninsured. The latest available figures show 13.2 million of them, or 29 percent, as of 2007. Who are they? They are our children, that’s who they are. They want to be on their own, but they haven’t figured out how to do that in this failing economy. They are trying hard, most of them, and living lightly–but most of the jobs that are available to them do not include health insurance, and private insurance is way too expensive. So they hope for the best. Some of them make it through to maturity all right . . . and some of them don’t.
Two dozen states now allow parents to claim young adults as dependents for insurance purposes up to age 29. I believe all states should follow suit. Medical care is not a privilege–it should be an absolute right for everyone, in a wealthy society such as ours. But if we’re going to begin somewhere with universal health care in this country, let it be with our children. These young people are still growing into adulthood. It is shameful that we grown-ups are letting them go without the protection that they need.
That’s what grown-ups do, in a civilized country. They care for their young.