Obamacare On Campus: Luring The Young And Uninsured

It’s lunchtime on the North Harris campus of Lone Star community college. Students stream through the lobby of the student services center, plugged into their headphones or rushing to class.

Many walk right past a small information table about the Affordable Care Act.  

The table is the brainchild of Megan Franks, a health and fitness professor. Franks says getting overworked students to stop and learn about the law is tough.

“If you say ‘Obamacare’ they know what you’re saying. If you say ‘Affordable Care Act,’ they walk by without any ‘ding, ding ding’ (of recognition). So then we throw out the word ‘penalty’: Zoom! They’ve never heard that before. Penalty? That really tends to be a hook more than ‘Gee you really need healthcare.’”

Franks says many students at Lone Star are low-income.

They often work. Some have families to support. Others struggle to find gas money to even get to class.

“I still think so many of them are at survival mode. ‘Health insurance, really? You know, I’ve got to get to work.’” 

She could be talking about Adan Castillo. He’s 19  and hoping for a career in law enforcement, or maybe the Marines. In addition to his classes, he also works.

Castillo actually used to be insured. He paid his parents $55 a month to keep him on their health plan.

But he says it just felt like throwing money away.

“I just stopped giving it to them, because there are other important things I have to do, like paying for my college books, classes, um, gas. Gas is expensive nowadays. Like c’mon, you know?”

But Adan’s girlfriend, Leslie Gonzalez, says insurance is important. She’s an accounting student.

“Well, he needs it. Because what if – let’s say he doesn’t have it right now and he gets in an accident, he’s going to have to pay everything out of pocket and what if he doesn’t have it?”

Gonzalez works part time as a bank teller. She says she will sign up for insurance at work as soon as she is eligible.

The stereotype about young people is that they think they’re “invincible,” that they don’t need insurance because they’re young and nothing bad will happen to them for years.

But most young adults don’t actually think that way.

Recent surveys, like one from the Kaiser Family Foundation, reveal that cost is the real issue.

Young people think health coverage is expensive, and they assume they  can’t afford it.

And they simply don’t know about the subsidized plans offered under the law, or how to get them.

Taylor Castille is a nursing student in her second year at Lone Star. She has logged on to HealthCare.gov, but her first visit didn’t go very well.

 “I finally got on the website the other day and it was kind of confusing to me because I didn’t understand like if I would have to pay, what would I pay, what I’m not paying. It was really confusing, and I got stressed out all over again just looking at that. So I just left the site and didn’t even bother to go back.”

Castille still wants coverage.

Last fall she suffered a series of fainting spells and seizures. After a few visits to the ER, she now has $30,000 in medical debt. And she still doesn’t have a diagnosis.

“I have all this debt and I’m not even 21. I haven’t bought a car, I haven’t done anything. I don’t have the debt because I was being irresponsible, I have the debt because I was sick and I couldn’t control that, so now I’m stuck with that.”

Castille later visited the information table and got a flier on how to sign up for a health plan.

So far, only about 25 percent of adults who have signed up are younger than 34. The federal government is hoping to nudge that proportion closer to 40 percent.

The deadline to enroll — for all ages — is March 31. 

 

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