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Sticky Notes, Young Invincibles and the Affordable Care Act

New to Denver, I was eager to check out the central branch of the public library, which seemed more like a castle than a library to me. (Note to my hometown of Providence, Rhode Island: Sorry, but the Denver Public Library definitely wins.)

But I probably should have gone alone. I was relentlessly mocked by my friends when I checked out a collection of health policy books as my “joy reading.” After a solid effort to reason with them - “You guys don’t understand, the ruling is in TWO WEEKS!”-  I gave up and added a novel to my stack.

Actually, I’m used to being teased by my peers. Last year, my friends placed a two-minutes-per-day limit on health policy discussions.

I had hoped for some leeway, considering the importance of the Supreme Court’s decision. After all, my captivation with the Supreme Court decision stemmed not only from my interest in health care, but also from my concern as a consumer.

And as bright, involved recent Colorado College graduates, I anticipated that my friends might even initiate conversations about the ruling. But, with the exception of a few headliner comments - “As long as I can stay on my parent’s insurance until I’m 26, then I’m happy.”- they weren’t very interested.   

I think that my peers’ seemingly apathetic attitude toward health policy can be traced to their confusion when trying to follow the health care debate. I don’t blame them. As someone who has always had a keen interest in public health, even I found that learning to speak “health” is no easier than college Spanish.

When my fellowship at CHI began last month, I decided to quickly learn the jargon by writing new health terms on sticky notes and putting them above my desk. But not everyone has the luxury of lining their walls with health terms, and for those who don’t, the world of health policy can prove awfully intimidating.

So I have boiled down the Supreme Court ruling to a few points of interest for young adults:

  1. Covered until 26: Yes, we are now able to stay on mom and dad’s insurance until we are 26. For me and many of my peers, this is a huge relief. This security can alleviate much of the stress associated with a young adult’s first job search.  No longer constrained by looking only for positions that offer good health insurance plans, we have the flexibility to diversify our search.
  2. Targeting the Young Invincibles: What if you want to opt out of health insurance when you turn 26? It’s going to cost you. The “young invincibles” refers to uninsured young adults whose disinterest in coverage stems from the conception that, as young people, we probably won’t get sick and we can spend our money on other things. Since the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate, beginning in 2014 we will all be required to obtain health insurance or pay a tax despite how good we think our odds are. The good news: you might qualify for tax credits that will be made available to help make coverage more affordable for young adults.
  3. Preventive Care: While we may prefer to disregard this reality at times, it is an unavoidable truth that unhealthy lifestyles may result in larger health issues down the road. The fact that the Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies issuing new plans to cover many preventive services might make healthier behaviors a little more accessible by eliminating co-pays, coinsurance and deductibles for some recommended preventive care. Some elements of this expansion that are worth noting to young adults include: immunization vaccines, tobacco and alcohol misuse screening, counseling and intervention, depression screening, Type 2 diabetes screening, cervical cancer screening and STI prevention counseling.

Nothing is written in stone. The elections this fall will play a huge role in the implementation of these three changes and many more. So, after allowing for some time to digest the Supreme Court’s decision, it is important that my peers and I begin to formulate our own opinions about this law. It has important implications for all of us. 

Natalie Triedman is a policy analyst at CHI.