Young, But Not Invincible

By Scott Wetzel

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Saturday is National Youth Enrollment Day. If you aren’t sure about purchasing health insurance, consider my situation.

In early January of this year, I was struck with an illness that nearly ended my life. January 6 started off like any normal day. At 8:30 a.m., I was waiting impatiently for the Metro to resolve a delay on the orange line. At 1:00 p.m., I was on my third cup of coffee and was reviewing notes from an earlier call. At 3:00 p.m., I started to feel cold and lightheaded. And at 6:30 p.m., I was unconscious, being defibrillated, and was rushed to the ER due to a sepsis-like event. All of this occurred with virtually no sign of an impending problem. I “woke up” seven hours later in the ICU and remained in the hospital for the next five days. During this time, my doctors conducted every conceivable test to determine what had occurred. I left the hospital without knowing the cause—just that it was likely spurred by an unknown virus.

I am fortunate that my roommate acted quickly when the first serious symptom appeared. I am fortunate for the excellent care I received at Virginia Hospital Center. I am also fortunate that I have health insurance.

I’m 31 years old. Maybe some people wouldn’t consider that young, but I’m certainly not old enough to be rushed to a hospital for unknown reasons. That’s the sort of thing that happens to your grandma. But life is full of random events, and there is so much that is outside of our control. Why take a chance with your health, or your future finances, by putting off something as critical as insurance?

A few weeks ago, I read an article in New York Magazine that asked why young people in New York City had not yet purchased insurance. While by no means a scientific poll, the responses were similar to those I’ve heard from people I know. Of those surveyed, 29 percent said it was too expensive, 8 percent said they don’t get sick, and 12 percent said they tried and grew frustrated with the process. At least one respondent said “the fine is cheaper” than insurance coverage. It’s true that Healthcare.gov can be glitchy and the costs of insurance may be higher than you initially thought, but the investment in your health is well worth it.

The total cost for my five days in the hospital, and the necessary follow-up care, is approximately $50,000. One month after my release, the charges continue to accrue. Like most of you, this incredible amount of money from a single random hospital stay would have set me back decades without insurance coverage. This level of debt would have likely ruined my credit, making prospects for buying a car, house, or even obtaining another job in the future impossible. One major illness, car wreck, or gunshot could end any hope of financial security. And as noted in an earlier post by Dr. Joanne Conroy, proving you do not have the assets to pay for your hospital bills is no easy matter. Health insurance has protected me financially and has ensured that I can access the necessary follow-up care.

With coverage by a typical silver level health plan on the Washington, DC, exchange, an illness similar to mine would cost you less than $10,000. $10,000 is painful, but manageable. $50,000 is not. Young people finally have the opportunity to purchase affordable and comprehensive health insurance coverage. Now is the time to take advantage. Most important, it’ll give your mother peace of mind.

swetzel-headshotScott Wetzel is a Health Care Affairs Program Specialist at the AAMC. He specializes in regulatory policy and hospital quality measurement issues and can be reached at swetzel@aamc.org.

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