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Ari Matusiak

Ari Matusiak

Posted: April 6, 2010 01:45 PM

Facts, Not Fear -- What Health Care Reform Means for Young Americans

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The debate over health care reform continues. With the ink from all of those pens barely dry, opponents are already calling for the law's repeal. If you believe them, what just happened in Washington was an attack on our freedom and economic opportunity. It may even have been the foreshadowing of Armageddon.

This kind of rhetoric is not surprising. We have been hearing it for months. In its more serious form, it uses twisted logic dependent on incomplete facts to scare a vulnerable constituency. The most recent target is young America. The claim? That health care reform will drive up our premiums by 17 percent, making it even more difficult in these troubled times for us to build our lives or make ends meet. Health care means less freedom. You should have paid closer attention before voting for so much change.

Of course, as with all of these attacks, this one does not stand up to reason or even common sense. The fact is that young Americans comprise the largest group of uninsured in the country: 19 million 18 to 34 year olds are currently uncovered. But 15 percent of us suffer from chronic conditions and we require emergency care more than any group under age 75. We are uninsured, not because we think we are invincible, but because we cannot afford the monthly premium bill. There is nothing freeing about living in fear of getting hurt or sick with no coverage, or slapped with medical bills that plunge us into debt. This bill will calm that fear for millions.

In raw numbers, young Americans will benefit more from this legislation than any other age group. And the reason is that we are poorer than any other age group. The law just passed focuses benefits on those least able to afford private market insurance - those earning less than $43,000 per year. Over two thirds of 18 to 34 year olds, and three quarters of 18 to 29 year olds, fall into that category. Almost half of us have salaries under $25,000. Quite simply, this law is for us.

The expansion of Medicaid and introduction of tax credits to defray premium costs will pick up about 15 million of the 19 million young uninsured. The provision allowing children to stay on their parents' plans until age 26 will extend coverage to at least another two million young adults. These benefits will also help young Americans who currently have insurance improve the quality of their coverage. For young Americans earning less than $14,000 per year, Medicaid will now provide a more comprehensive option. And the tax credits will give the $25,000 earner more, not less, buying power. Higher quality coverage means fewer out of pocket expenses. Far from jacking up our expenses, health care reform will save us money.

This is especially important in a time where young Americans are struggling more than any demographic to find employment. This year's college graduates are facing one of the worst job markets in our country's history; the unemployment rate of 20 to 24 year olds is over 50 percent higher than the population as a whole. Although all of the reform's benefits do not come online immediately, the first major expansion of coverage - the ability to stay on your parents' insurance until age 26 - happens this September and could not be better timed.

There is no freedom in going without health insurance. Just ask Monique, a young woman we met who grapples with hypertension and a rare autoimmune disorder called Sjorgren's syndrome. Between jobs and school, she has had to make decisions about whether to spend her limited discretionary income on needed medication or public transportation. Access to health insurance drives her decisions on where to live and what career path to pursue. Or ask Krisja, a young woman who graduated from college with thyroid cancer, contracted Crohn's disease and got kicked off her insurance as a result. She had to move home to afford her medications. She still battles with insurance companies to provide her the coverage she needs to live.

Health care's opponents may want to define this debate through rhetoric and fear, but the facts will ultimately prevail. The law is not perfect, to be sure. But it will grant millions of Americans, young and old, with the freedom and opportunity that comes having quality, affordable and secure health insurance. Really, there is nothing left to debate.