The number of uninsured young adults continued to drop this last year in the wake of President Barack Obama’s health reform bill.
While the total number of 18- to 25-year-olds without insurance has decreased from 28 to 24.2 percent nationally since 2008, BYU’s health coverage requirement seeks to ensure its entire student population is insured.
“There are nasty consequences of being uninsured if you have a catastrophic or even a chronic illness and your ability to pay for the services is not there,” said David Thomas, deputy general counsel, who works closely with the BYU health center.
Due to the generally healthy state and somewhat invincible mentality of this age group, they are often referred to as the “invincibles” in the medical community.
BYU student Johnny Harris, a senior from Ashland, Ore., said students are not as invincible as they think and he saw this firsthand when his wife, Izzy, injured her hand.
“We were at our friends’ house making dinner, and Izzy was using the hand blender to make something,” Harris said. “She put her fingers in the blade to scoop something out, and unintentionally turned it on, shredding her finger to the bone.”
An emergency room visit and 13 stitches later, Harris and his wife said they were grateful for their insurance.
“I asked, ‘Are you sure you need to go to the doctor?’ ” Harris said. “She said ‘yes.’ And so we went. If we had been uninsured, I would have been horrified to go to the hospital [without insurance], because that’s a lot of money.”
BYU students are automatically enrolled in the student health plan when they take nine or more credits. The BYU home page displayed a reminder to all students that they would be charged for the student plan if they did not put their own private plan into the system.
“Our goal is to make health care services as convenient as we can for students,” said Rulon Barlow, director of the Student Health Center. “It’s not contingent upon whether you’re on a private or student plan. We want them to be able to get service. If they wake up feeling bad, and they don’t know where to go, we want them to have a place to go.”
Thomas said the prospect of financial burden can weigh heavily on young adults when considering medical care.
“If you’re not insured, while legally you can still receive help at an emergency room, people often won’t seek medical care when they need it,” Thomas said.
Obama’s health reform bill enables young adults to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26. This may be one of the reasons the number of insured “invincibles” increased by approximately 1 million.
Even with coverage, however, there are still burdens to face when emergencies occur.
“We had to pay a copay of $50,” Harris said. “That’s not just loose change. That’s a lot for us, a young married couple. If that’s just for the copay, how much is the bill going to be for 13 stitches and three hours in the hospital? Health insurance doesn’t cover everything.”
One problem students can face with their parents’ health plans is that coverage doesn’t always work as well when an individual is outside their home state. Thomas said it can be in the best interest of students to layer their home health plan with the student health plan to receive adequate coverage while living out of state.
“All the facilities here are available to any student or their dependents, whether they’re on private insurance or the school health plan,” Barlow said. “It is a prudent decision to be covered. We should all be prudent and provide for ourselves.”