While healthy young adults may appear to be the least at risk for health problems, make no mistake — many young adults are uninsured. The current system of health insurance in the United States has placed college students in an incredible bind. Over 13.7 million young adults in the U.S. today do not have health insurance specifically, those between the ages of 19 and 29, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a healthcare think tank. With young adults comprise one of the largest segments of America’s uninsured, we can be certain this is a serious domestic issue.
Currently under federal law, upon turning 19 a child is no longer included under his or her parents’ health insurance. According to a report published by The Commonwealth Fund, “both public and private insurance plans treat this age as a turning point in coverage decisions. Employer health plans often do not cover young adults as dependents after age 18 or 19 if they do not go on to college.”
Such a fact may catch some by surprise. Approaching my 19th birthday, I was more concerned with picking my classes for junior year than deliberating over my future health insurance coverage. Yet among those young adults not enrolled full-time in college, 38 percent are uninsured, according to the Commonwealth Fund. Fortunately, similarly to many colleges and universities, the Office of Student Health Insurance at Cornell mandates that every student have some form of health insurance — whether through the Student Health Insurance Plan or a separate entity. For some insurance coverage will continue into graduate school or law school. Yet once we graduate from our ivy-covered buildings, our health insurance plans become obsolete. We are on our own.
The existing healthcare framework in the U.S. has left us with very little security — both health and economic — and has shattered our sense of post-collegiate freedom. In a system where health insurance comes with jobs, there is a heightened risk for choosing a job without health benefits. The report also states only 42 percent of workers and professionals in the 19-29 bracket have job-based health benefits, compared to 62 percent for older age groups. According to the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C. many young adults are too new in their jobs to obtain benefits or simply work at jobs that cannot extend coverage.
Discussion of health insurance and medical costs seems dizzying to college students, and perhaps its complexity is precisely why we have dismissed it as pertinent to our lives. Graduating seniors are left with some critical decisions. Working at an NGO or inner city public school right out of college is an extremely rewarding experience, but it may leave you to pay your medical bills largely out of pocket. Traveling the world no-strings-attached for a year sounds phenomenal, but suppose you contract a rare disease in Thailand. You’d be left to shoulder the costs without insurance. Even graduating from Cornell a semester early to relax in Ithaca will leave you without any coverage. These are neither comforting nor secure ways to begin your adult independent lives.
In the midst of this ongoing financial catastrophe it is important to marry two of the most pressing domestic issues: healthcare and the economy. As the market mends its wounds from Monday’s rejected bailout and oil prices continue to fall steeply in fear of a global recession, trepidations of prolonged and massive unemployment are becoming a reality. It is increasingly evident that our economy will be severely weakened and college students stand to face the toughest job market in decades. The outcome is simple and grim: since the U.S. healthcare system is inextricably linked to employment, the increase in unemployed Americans will lead to an increase in uninsured Americans. And with our insurance effectively ending after graduation, college students may be left in a very difficult situation moving forward.
I struggle with the dilemma we face. The inherent optimism attached to graduating from college is dulled by the dependence on this shaky job market. In order to be independent from our parents, we need to pick the right job —one that will keep us employed for the next few years. Students are criticized for picking a job purely for the money; will others be scrutinized for choosing based on health insurance? With the economy in this state, is that something college graduates need to be more attune to? Perhaps the youthful freedom we thought we had no longer exists.
In this election, Republican candidate John McCain emphasizes cost cutting and encourages Americans to buy their own insurance, rather than obtaining it through employment. Conversely, Democratic candidate Barack Obama focuses on providing coverage for the 47 million uninsured. When deciding whom to vote for you should ask yourself: which presidential candidate will best protect my health and security?
Laura Temel is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at email@example.com. The Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes appears alternate Wednesdays.