If you live in the United States and you don’t know what the Affordable Care Act (or ACA, also colloquially referred to as “Obamacare”) is by now, then it’s time to get out from the rock you’ve been living under and sign up for health insurance.
As a vibrant, healthy twenty-something, you probably aren’t planning on getting sick. No one writes a broken leg or severe depression into their five- and ten-year plans. No one thinks a cancer diagnosis or car accident will happen to them… until it does. We hope you are never affected by such tragedy, but in the case that something unfortunate does happen in your life that requires medical care, we here at GenTwenty hope you’ll be protected from massive medical bills. We also hope that you’ll be insured in case you need to talk to a professional about STIs, need a physical for an exciting trip abroad, or need to talk with a therapist. Having access to these services is extremely important for a healthy and happy life.
Because the ACA was signed into law back in 2010, the then-twenty-seven million uninsured Americans are now required to get covered, nineteen million of whom are young Americans aged eighteen to thirty-four.
There has been a slew of controversy surrounding the ACA, and for good reason. The idea that the federal government can force us to purchase a product, whether we want it or not, is a scary and intrusive one to some. In the eons-old debate between liberty and equality, those who prioritize liberty are terrified by the precedent that this law has set. They feel that those who are willingly uninsured and are not interested in buying into the system at all ought to have the right to go without insurance. The idea behind the ACA errs on the side of equality, as it is seen as a step towards more equitable healthcare that is accessible to all. But this massive overhaul of our healthcare system was not implemented just to spite libertarians and those right of the aisle. There is good reason to believe we as twenty-somethings will be better off because of these changes. Here’s why:
One of the most obvious benefits to twenty-somethings under the ACA is one of the earliest enacted provisions, which allows dependents to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until the age of twenty-six. Prior to the ACA, young adults who were headed into the workforce and losing their student status (whether they were leaving high school or college) would have to find their own health insurance as soon as their diploma was dropped into their hand. As many of us can attest, it’s difficult to make ends meet during those transition periods, even without the added stress of selecting and paying for health insurance. Luckily, health insurance is one expense that we no longer have to worry about if our parents are insured. The benefits of this provision go beyond simply being insured; because we aren’t desperate to land a full time gig with those sought-after health benefits, we can be more creative with our career choices and try out internships or juggle a few part time jobs to test the waters of a few careers.
Next, if you’re one of the 8 million uninsured young adults making under $15,500 annually, your state was given the option to expand Medicaid, a low-cost government insurance program that could make it easier for you to access healthcare. Check out this useful page to find out the status of Medicaid in your state and whether you qualify.
Next, if you’re one of the nine million twenty-somethings out there making under $46,000 each year, you might receive tax credits for purchasing insurance though the Health Insurance Marketplace. The tax credits will cut down on the amount you need to pay for your monthly insurance premium, making a great plan more affordable for you as you’re juggling student loan and rent payments!
Another huge benefit for the ladies? All plans are now required to cover contraception and counseling for all women. Plans are not allowed to charge a copay or deductible for an in-network provider. This means birth control pills, diaphragms, IUDs, emergency contraception, education, and counseling are all available to you free of cost if you are insured. The range of options available to us now make it much easier to plan ahead if we want to postpone “settling down” or if we want to forgo starting a family completely.
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you didn’t sign up for health coverage prior to March 31, you might need to pay a penalty when you file your 2014 taxes (unless you qualify for a special enrollment period, CHIP or Medicaid). The penalty for 2014 is $95 per person or one percent of your yearly household income, whichever is higher. Worse than that, you’ll need to pay out-of-pocket for all your healthcare needs, which can add up quickly even for routine office visits.
This is all for good reason, though. If an individual who is lacking health coverage receives medical care but cannot pay their hefty bill, everyone else ends up paying the price. If we reduce the deadweight of unpaid medical expenses and spread the cost more evenly across the population, the average cost per individual will go down.
We here at GenTwenty recognize that the ACA is not perfect and it may be a bumpy ride as the United States joins the ranks of countries offering universal health care. Aside from the ideological issue of liberty versus equality, issues that have been raised with the ACA include the monopolization in the medical marketplace, resulting in fewer independent practices and higher costs, increasing attention to regulatory issues rather than patient care, delays in the share-ability of electronic health records (EHRs), and confusion about the changes taking place. We will likely continue hearing about these shortfalls as the ACA marches forward, but we hope that the law will result in a healthier society, healthier communities, and healthier twenty-somethings.