Freedom Is Now Affordable

11/08/2013 03:02 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

My eyelids are itching. The corner of my mouth is red. Am I allergic to nail polish as the dermatologist who diagnosed me from nine feet away once suggested, or do I have a rare tropical disease unknown by the seasoned staff at WebMD? Like Woody Allen explained in the New York Times, "What distinguishes my hysteria is that at the appearance of the mildest symptom, let's say chapped lips, I instantly leap to the conclusion that the chapped lips indicate a brain tumor. Or maybe lung cancer. In one instance I thought it was Mad Cow." I'm more of an alarmist than a hypochondriac.

Unlike Woody, I generally prefer to stay away from the doctor's chair, Googling conditions, consulting friends with no medical training and pacing the aisles of Rite Aid seeking an elixir for an undetermined ailment until the latest harbinger of death disappears on its own. But unlike many young Americans, I have never gone without health insurance, despite bouts of unemployment, since I've been cognizant of the fact that a funny-shaped freckle could actually turn out to be melanoma. In times when I've been without income, my parents have helped me pay the ungodly COBRA bill, which currently costs $800 a month for a 31-year-old with no preexisting conditions aside from a possible nail polish allergy.

Every time I turn on a news program discussing the feasibility of the Affordable Care Act, the talking heads in pantsuits are debating whether the young and the healthy will sign up on the newly adopted exchanges. My question is, why the hell wouldn't they?

According to a recent Atlantic article about poverty amongst young adults in America, "By age 35, a little more than a quarter will have lived under the actual poverty line." Countless young people have been laid off or work part time or as freelancers who don't get benefits from their employers. Until recently, this group's only option was to buy insurance at prohibitively high rates or crappy plans with sky-high deductibles. Many decided to opt out and rely on the emergency room in a crisis.

As a young American currently making 10 dollars an hour at a part-time job, I signed up for free health insurance through the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. That's right, free. All it took was a brief phone call to Covered California (not because the website didn't work but because I thought it was wise to have another human talk me through my options). My pride hurt as I told the woman on the phone my measly income. I explained to her that I was hoping to make more in the near future. She responded, "Don't we all, girlfriend," assuring me that I had the right to health insurance that wouldn't break the bank.

It made me wonder whether a combination of misinformation, the lack of a targeted campaign, and pride is stopping young people from taking advantage of these momentous reforms. In the past few decades, the war on the poor has done an excellent job of vilifying people who receive government assistance as lazy mooches. Many members of my generation forget that "the government's money" is actually our money that we pay in taxes, and we are entitled to access it in times of need or when we are making an investment in our future.

I am always confused by critics of health care reform who associate freedom with employer-provided health insurance. There is nothing more freeing than having the opportunity to pursue a dream, whether it's a business venture or a creative endeavor that might not yield an immediate profit without the worry that you're one accident away from incurring crippling debt. Weren't we once a nation of people who took risks on ideas, not on our health?

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