The Health Care Cliff
26 is a Scary Number in America. Moderate Health Care Policy Won’t Fix it.
I am terrified of college graduation. Like most of my peers, impending graduation day feels like I’m being pushed off of a cliff into the real world.
But unlike most of my graduating class, I’m not worried about getting a job or possibly getting engaged. I’m more concerned about what I might lose once those things happen — specifically my health care.
As a non-related bone marrow transplant survivor, my life has revolved around my health care for about a decade. I was diagnosed with multiple autoimmune conditions and a rare blood disease when I was 18, although my issues began long before the diagnosis. At the age of 20, in the middle of my undergraduate degree, I received a bone marrow transplant in July of 2018. Now, almost a year and a half later, I have been cured of my disease but require constant treatment to manage my brand new immune system. Every aspect of my life is impacted by health care, including my plans for the future.
While it’s not uncommon for healthy young adults to struggle to make the jump from a degree to a job, for students with disabilities this jump can feel impossible. This is not an unrealistic feeling. What often keeps me up at night isn’t my ability to get a job, but the reality that once I do, my income might prevent me from getting financial assistance. The idea of someday getting married to my partner no longer makes me excited, because I know that our combined incomes will likely make it difficult for me to get medical care. Even with health insurance, my insurance co-pays are often in the thousands of dollars. Currently, I am able to write them off with help from financial aid because I have no income. Once I get a job, that will change. It’s not that I am against paying for my health care, but with co-pay costs upwards of 10k a month, it would be impossible to pay my bills even with a reasonable salary.
Even if I am able to stay on my parent's insurance with a salaried job, the reality that I will be kicked off my parents insurance at 26 is anxiety inducing. There is no guarantee that I will be able to get a job with good health insurance coverage, and even if I do, the co-pays on that insurance will continue to be a problem. There is also a chance that the new health insurance will no longer cover certain treatments and medications, setting my health backward or possibly putting me in the hospital. Even in the best-case scenario, there will be problems.
With every birthday, I feel myself creeping closer to the cliff — 26 years old. The thrill of growing up and getting a job, becoming an adult, and building a life have been robbed from me. Birthdays are bittersweet. Weddings and graduations are bittersweet. My future feels unsteady.
The deaths in the United States surrounding Insulin are a good example of the threat that the ‘health care cliff’ poses and how it can literally end young people’s lives. It’s been well documented that many young adults have died rationing their insulin because of skyrocketing prices, sometimes even with insurance. As an activist that works on this issue in the state of Ohio, I have seen the stress and damage that this causes first hand. But while we are actively working on the issue, as are many other states, it’s clear that much more needs to be done.
When it comes down to it, the main issue is privatized health insurance and the unregulated market of pharmaceutical drugs that it supports. While moderate Democratic candidates like Mayor Pete and former Vice President Biden support continuing privatized insurance, they are not considering young people like me who are just starting out, often with student debt, who do not even have the chance to begin to save money because of medical bills.
These moderate positions on health care also don’t consider drug cost regulation, which is arguably the most necessary part of making health care affordable, and rarely consider the reality that health insurance is not easy to navigate, nor are their alternative options provided through the majority of employers. The idea that I, a disabled 22-year-old college student, can appropriately navigate the American health care system with an adequate understanding of my options is laughable. And yet, my entire life depends on me not only understanding the system, but being able to get a job, manage my health, and somehow finding 5,000 dollars a month extra to support my life-saving immunoglobulin treatments or thousands of dollars worth of medications.
This election will determine the next decade of my life — whether I live debt-free or in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt by the time I’m in my mid-twenties and anything less than Medicare for All just isn’t acceptable. The reality is that only people who are supportive of privatized health care are people who can afford it — until they can’t. Illness and disability come for us all, in one way or another, but we currently live in a country where the outcome is largely determined by the color of your skin and the contents of your wallet. Moderate health care policy isn’t for America — it’s for those that can afford to be moderate and celebrate that mediocrity in wine caves.