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Healthcare reform: What’s in it for young people?

BY SIMEON TALLEY | AUGUST 20, 2009 7:05 AM

The debate taking place over health-care reform has riled up both the left and the right. Screaming matches at town halls, hanging effigies outside of congressional offices, and accusations of euthanasia have all unfortunately filled the debate. Perhaps most bizarrely and frightening are the instances of individuals standing outside of President Obama’s health-care town halls with loaded semiautomatic weapons.

Trying to navigate through the rhetoric, committee bills, and buzz words is difficult. And trying to understand what comprehensive health-care reform means for young adults is even more complicated. Yet if Obama and Congress are able to reform our health-care system, it will significantly benefit young people.

Watching CNN one afternoon, I thought I saw my grandmother as one of the “mad as hell” individuals at a town hall. Luckily, it wasn’t her. But it struck me as odd that the debate about health-care reform has focused almost exclusively on seniors and middle-class families — especially when most seniors have health insurance, and current efforts are an attempt to improve upon Medicare and make it more efficient.

Nearly one-third of young adults aged 19-34 don’t have health insurance, according to the progressive advocacy group Rock the Vote. Approximately 30 million young adults went without health insurance at some point in 2007-08.

And it’s not as if those young adults without health insurance aren’t working and participating in the economy; 56 percent of uninsured young adults aged 19-29 are full-time workers, according to Rock the Vote.

Many more young adults are underinsured or only an expensive hospital bill away from serious financial trouble. If you also consider the tremendous economic pressures that young adults face — student and credit card debt, lack of jobs, and falling incomes — it becomes clear that young adults need health-care reform and need it now.

There are several congressional committees working on health-care bills. While the major House committees have reported their health-care bills out of committee, the Senate Finance Committee is crafting its version, which it hopes will be a bipartisan bill. It’s important to note that Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is playing a prominent role in the health-care debate as the ranking minority member on the Senate Finance Committee. He has the opportunity to play an instrumental role in real comprehensive health-care form.

But most people are not following the progress or the status of the various committees in Congress at work. Despite all the misinformation being spread, there are a few ideas that could be a part of the final bill that are beneficial for young adults.

• The much-contested public option — which would provide all Americans with the option of buying into a government-run plan — would compete with private insurance companies. It’s recently become unclear whether there will be adequate support for such a plan. The inclusion of nonprofit health-care co-ops that would infuse additional competition into the market could take the place of a government-run insurance plan.

• Young adults would be allowed to stay on a parent’s insurance plan until the age of 26.

• Health exchanges would enable an individual to easily and centrally choose between competing insurance plans.

• Insurance companies would be prohibited from charging more because of sex. This would enable greater coverage of reproductive health.

• With subsidies for those who fall between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level, the government would increase accessibility, possibly through altering qualification levels for Medicaid, a government-sponsored plan for low-income individuals and families.

• No exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses, deductibles, or co-pays. Insurance companies would have to abide by yearly caps on how much they could charge for out-of-pocket expenses.

• Young adults may be able to access a less expensive young-adult policy that emphasizes prevention and healthy living.

Health-care reform that expands access, improves quality, and guarantees affordability will help young adults — maybe more than any other age group.


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