Healthcare and Invincible Twenty-somethings

I know that nationalized health care is an issue of serious contention. People who are lucky enough to have health care provided by their employers without Obamacare seem to live in this bubble which makes them think that anyone who holds a job without that particular benefit is doing something wrong with his or her life. It usually sounds something like, “Maybe they should get a real job.” Perhaps if you’re lucky enough to finish college before the age of 23 (which is when pre-Obamacare you were thrown off of your parents’ insurance) and you were lucky enough to get a full-time job that includes benefits as soon as you graduated, you think that people who didn’t manage accomplish those things did so intentionally. So, I’m going to tell everyone a little secret: No one I know has ever turned down a job that offered benefits to work a job that didn’t. There are some fields (free-lance musicians, substitute teachers, mechanics, half of the people who work in hospitals, cashiers) which involve working 40 or more hours a week, pay minimum or barely above minimum wage, and offer no medical benefits. So, if we’re going to argue that small businesses can’t afford to provide benefits, so we can’t require them to, what are these people supposed to do when they get sick? Stand on a street corner and beg for money? Mortgage their houses into default and then live on the street? (Ironically, I’m pretty sure the only people who make enough to pay for private health insurance already receive it as benefits through their employers).

When my best friend graduated from college in 2010, she was staring down the barrel of a very large health insurance coverage bill. It was the program available through New York State and I don’t remember the exact figure, but I remember thinking it was a pretty unreasonable number for something intended to be purchased by people whose jobs were somewhere between the poverty level and a job that would just provide complementary health care. (I think it was about what my car insurance bill is, and that’s about $4,000.00 per year). This particular friend happened to be dating someone who landed a particularly good job as soon as he graduated at a chain store and managed to set up an interview for her to be an assistant manager (even though she had no real experience in that field and her degree was completely unrelated), so she got that job and subsequently never had to figure out how to pay the absurd amount of money required to keep health insurance.

At the time, when I was comparing the cost to my car insurance bill, all I could think was: owning a car is a voluntary expense, public transportation exists, there are other options; the only situation in which health insurance is completely unnecessary is if you’re dead – life isn’t optional otherwise.

About a year later, I spent six months without health coverage. I suffer from hypothyroidism (which, untreated, can result in me slipping into a coma), as well as bilateral cubital tunnel syndrome. These are both chronic conditions and due to ongoing issues with my health coverage (for reasons completely unrelated to politics), they continue to be poorly managed, but for six months, I had no choice other than to just pray I would be okay – I didn’t have 2 grand laying around to just hand to the state. I consider myself lucky to have a father who works for a union which provides health insurance, even if I don’t have complete access to the information I need to properly use that insurance.

Tonight, a friend of mine posted this status on Facebook: Officially can’t hear a thing out of my right ear. This may be an annoyance to anyone but to a musician, this is NOT OK. Health pros on my fb feed please help 😦 visit to the doctor or just decongestants?

It’s a pretty typical display of invincible twenty-something behavior. We’re a demographic notorious for analyzing whether or not something is serious enough to seek legitimate medical attention. We share prescriptions and diagnose ourselves. It’s considered something of a normalcy, but if we think about the reason what it is and why this has become so normalized, it’s really disturbing. If your child were suddenly complaining she couldn’t hear out of her right ear, you’d rush her to the emergency room, right? It could be a symptom of anything ranging from an ear infection to a brain tumor. There would be no question that this is a serious problem. For someone who has been without health insurance or who has no idea whether medical bills will be affordable, suddenly, your bank account is more important than your health. Being alive and fully functioning is fine and dandy, but it’s a trade-off. You sacrifice quality of life in one way to achieve a satisfactory quality of life in another.

I’m not saying that it’s necessarily fair to require people to pay other people’s medical bills (if that’s even how truly nationalized health care would work), but I am saying that it’s even more unfair for people to literally have to choose between their health and having a roof over their heads. What’s the point of being able to hear if you’re just going to starve to death after you pay your medical bills?

 

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