At eighteen years old, five weeks into my college career, I was concerned about making new friends, dorm life, cafeteria food, and ten-page papers. I didn’t know anything about finding a new primary care provider, switching my insurance from Tricare to Tricare West or how much an ER visit cost. When my roommate found me unconscious from pain on the floor of our tiny room, she called 911 and help was dispatched. While being loaded into the back of the ambulance, all I could manage to say was, “please, take me somewhere that accepts Tricare.”
Several weeks later my student mailbox was flooded with bills from Tricare West and Penrose Hospital. I panicked, gathered them all, and immediately mailed them to my mother in Pennsylvania. Just because I had health insurance didn’t mean I knew how to manage it.
The passing on of knowledge from generation to generation is both a time-honored tradition and a practical way to teach our youth life skills—like how to drive a car, how to catch a fish, or how to cook the perfect casserole. But nowhere in the growing-up manual is there a chapter on health insurance. With other insurance policies, we seem to have a better grasp of what “coverage” means. Auto insurance covers me in case of a car accident, renter’s insurance covers me if my apartment building floods, and travel insurance covers me in case my plans or the weather change. Sure, there are rules about limits and deductibles, but I ultimately know that I’m protected against a major loss. With health insurance, it seems much less straightforward.
According to the Colorado Health Access Survey (PDF), over 800,000 Coloradans are currently uninsured, and the majority of them are ages 19-34. We also know that researchers (PPTX) who are studying how the Affordable Care Act will affect insurance rates have shown that a majority of those uninsured Coloradans have been uninsured for over a year, some for as long as three years, and a good portion have never had health insurance. As we think about our young people gaining insurance, whether it is through a provision of the Affordable Care Act, the new Colorado Health Benefit Exchange, an employer, or a parent’s plan, we need to think about how they will learn to manage that coverage, too.