February 19, 2009

"For Uninsured Young Adults, Do-It-Yourself Health Care"

"They borrow leftover prescription drugs from friends, attempt to self-diagnose ailments online, stretch their diabetes and asthma medicines for as long as possible and set their own broken bones. When emergencies strike, they rarely can afford the bills that follow....."

No, the above paragraph isn't describing a third-world country....it's describing AMERICA's very own heathcare system.

In yesterday's NYT article For Uninsured Young Adults, Do-It-Yourself Health Care, journalist Cara Buckley provides an intimate look into one of the nation's latest (and dangerous) trends--
people in their 20s shunning health insurance either because their age makes them feel invulnerable or because expensive policies are out of reach. And, if I didn't know better, I would have thought that Buckley had taken a page right out of my own 20-something, uninsured life that I experienced last year before coming to TEM.....

In 2007, as a recent college graduate and newbie to the workforce, I found myself interning at a low-paying job....not offered any insurance, unable to pay for COBRA, and no longer eligible to be on my parents' plan. Luckily (or not so lucky, depending on how you look at it), I was only uninsured for about 3 months....but one of the most nerve-wracking 3 months of my life. Like the other young adults in Buckley's article, I attempted to self-diagnose my ailments online and postpone doctor visits. At one time, I even refused to go to the doctor when I thought I had a stomach ulcer and was left doubled over in excruciating stomach pain. Rather than go to the ER, I chose to suffer through the night and stock up on over-the-counter meds until I could make it home to Massachusetts to see our family doctor...and where my parents could cover the tab. (If you're wondering what was the doctor's diagnosis, sorry but you're out of luck. I dealt with the stomach pains for about a week until they gradually subsided on their own and went away). I felt so vulnerable living without health insurance that I became nervous to even step off the curb!

Thankfully, my bout with Do-It-Yourself Health Care came to an end when my parents came to my rescue and paid for my expensive COBRA plan. Happy to be insured?? Yes! Happy to continue depending on my 60-year-old parents for financial assistance?? Take a guess.

Now a year later, although I am both fully employed and insured, I am still a witness to the "Do-It-Yourself Health Care" system--this time it's my best friend who balances her health with a low-paying job and high-priced city. When the choice comes down to paying for an expensive heart medication that prevents her from fainting or paying the bills, like many of the subjects in Buckley's article, my friend chooses the latter.