They are nicknamed the "Young Invincibles." Thus tagged by the health insurance industry, they are the demographic of strapping 19- to 29-year-olds who, at 13.7 million strong, constitute the largest group of uninsured in America. Among the least likely to be able to afford coverage, Young Invincibles are more likely not to buy insurance for another reason: it simply has not crossed their minds.
But what happens when an uninsured student's blurry vision is suddenly diagnosed to be the onset of permanent blindness?
As much as this may sound like the newsier equivalent of a bogeyman story spun with the intent to bolster ratings and page views, it happens. This was the fate of a genuine Cal State Northridge graduate student who made the choice to pass up full coverage and was subsequently buried in fees for the unexpected surgeries necessary to save her sight.
Lisa Ling, the CNN correspondent you may recall being the sister of the young journalist recently released by North Korea to Bill Clinton, profiles two uninsured Southern California students on KCET's newest installment of SoCal Connected, which premieres at 8 tonight and repeats through the weekend.
In her segment, Ling explores the consequences faced by uninsured young adults who forgo student healthcare options out of sheer optimism.
"I think that security is one of the biggest misnomers of health insurance," Ling tells the Weekly. ". . . While it's devastating when the uninsured get sick, it's even more unconscionable when people who do have health insurance--those who believe they are doing the right thing by paying into insurance provided for them by their employer or university--find out after they're already sick that they're not fully covered. . . . That is really dangerous, but it happens to a huge percentage of the young and uninsured. We think we're doing the right thing by having insurance, but when tragedy strikes we're not covered."
Although the pickings look slim, there are health care plans out there that work to protect students; even if they don't want it. In 2001, the University of California was the first multi-campus education system to enact mandatory healthcare as a condition for enrollment. The policy was established as a reaction to research that revealing that 40 percent of UC students were uninsured or under-insured. Studies also showed that a quarter of those who left school did so for medical reasons linked to the lack of insurance. So far, so good . . . that is, if you're currently enrolled at a UC.
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Cal State campuses and community colleges also include a mandatory health service fee in their tuitions, but unlike the UC they don't require students to opt into a full-coverage plan. Cal State and community colleges do offer separate healthcare options through associated health insurance companies, but the optional tag makes shelling out a monthly sum for health insurance an even bigger pill to swallow.
That's why students such as the aforementioned Northridge woman feel fine skimping on this only to rely on the basic health service fee as a saftey net. Cal State Long Beach has a $45 health service fee charged once a semester that covers most medical services provided by their on-campus clinic. Services may include various lab works such as a urinalysis or x-rays. Orange Coast College has a similar health service fee, but at $13 a semester it doesn't provide lab work. Both colleges take care of mental health services and cut students a pretty good deals on prescription medications, but so far as loosing an eye goes, TS.
With one-third of HIV diagnoses being made among young adults and at least six preventable deaths occurring daily due to lack of insurance, taking a second look at that $100 a month quote from Kaiser Permanente doesn't sound like such a bad idea.
But if you're young and resilient, why pay $100 a month for services you'll obviously never use when you could be buying books, clothes, or beer instead? The Young Invincibles seem to live by this philosophy. Sadly, they are dying by it as well.