The same day that the Supreme Court ruled to let the Affordable Care Act stand, Brian Powers woke up in an ambulance. He had had a seizure, his third in a little more than a year. (His second had been two months earlier, on his college graduation day.) Several hours later, the 22-year-old from Plainfield, Conn., was diagnosed with epilepsy. He’s been on seizure medications since, and likely will have to continue for at least a few years.
Powers’ mom has health insurance that covered the ambulance rides, the emergency room visits, one night in the hospital, and now, the drugs. Powers contributed just $5 in co-payment at the pharmacy. He says he hasn’t had to think a lot about health insurance, because, as he says:
“My family has always been insured due to my mother’s occupation as a medical technologist/microbiologist at a hospital in upstate New York. … Any and all medical bills my family has ever acquired, any medications, and even regular dentist appointments were always covered.”
That was the way jobs used to be. In 1987, 62.1 percent of Americans were part of an employer’s health insurance plan, according to the Census Bureau. Employment-based coverage peaked in 2000 with 65.1 percent of all Americans having this sort of insurance. But by 2010, it had fallen to 55.3 percent.
Young adults are less likely to be covered under employment-based plans than anyone but senior citizens: Only 45.9 percent of Americans age 18-24 carried insurance from their employer in 2010.
Brian Powers isn’t one of those people.
“While I’m sure they would offer insurance if they could, my employer simply can’t afford it,” Powers explains.
Straight out of college, he landed a job as the program coordinator for Literacy Volunteers of Eastern Connecticut, a non-profit that recruits and trains volunteers to teach English to immigrants.
“I simply lucked out with a fantastic position with an organization whose mission I care about,” he says. So it’s great for Powers that the ACA and his mom’s health insurance allow him to continue.
Last year, 6.6 million young Americans like Powers, who otherwise likely would have been uninsured, had health insurance because of the provision in the Affordable Care Act (or ACA) that lets them join or remain on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26. That’s according to a June 2012 Commonwealth Fund report that surveyed 19- to 25-year-olds.
Sean Klomparens, 24, of Boulder, Colo., has “amazing health benefits” through his current job as a web developer. But before he was able to handle health insurance on his own, he almost gave up his plans for grad school because of a medical condition:
“When I was 22 I developed ulcerative colitis. The symptoms are manageable with an anti-inflammatory drug that I need to take every day, called Apriso, which costs $285 a month without insurance ($20-$30 per month with). I was on my parents’ insurance at the time and was under 23 so I was covered.
“I was considering not getting my master’s and just getting a job because I would soon be dropped off of my parents’ insurance with no way to pay for my medication.”
Just before his birthday, though, when he was about to lose the coverage, the part of the ACA that let him stay on his parents’ plan went into effect. It carried him through a master’s degree, nine months of job searching and an internship.
Although Klomparens is not relying on the ACA right now, he says it will help him achieve his dream of becoming a small-acreage farmer. He and his fiancee (they’re getting married next month) have bought 16 acres in Oregon City, Ore., just south of Portland, thanks to an inheritance from his grandmother.
They plan to work at jobs with health benefits for a few years, and once they’ve saved enough to be financially independent, Klomparens says, “we will ‘retire’ to the farm,” thanks to another provision of the ACA.
Starting January 1, 2014, state-run insurance exchanges will allow individuals and small businesses to band together — thus increasing their purchasing power and driving down cost — to purchase group health insurance.
Klomparens explains further:
“Having access to a pool of health insurance that we can buy into will help us switch to farming more quickly. It was always going to happen, that is without a doubt in our minds (You don’t give up on a dream just because it’s not financially feasible right now!).
“The ACA simply speeds things along and drastically reduced the stress we are going to feel when we try and raise kids together. It hopefully will reduce the costs of being self employed to the point where neither of us will have to get a job for health insurance again.”
For Ragnar Thorisson, 24, the ACA is doing more than fueling his dreams — it’s helping to keep him alive. Nine years ago, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). After several months of treatment and a bone marrow transplant from his brother, the cancer went into remission — until last December.
AML patients are generally consider cured if they are in remission two years after transplant, and it’s uncommon for people to relapse after that time, says Dr. Erica Warlick, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Cancer Center and Medical School.
But Thorisson — a native of Iceland whose family moved to Sioux City, Iowa, when he was nine — did.
“I had just graduated from Grinnell College and entered a voluntary service program called Lutheran Volunteer Corps. After four months of service in Seattle, I became ill with pneumonia and was then diagnosed with a relapse of my cancer.
“I lost my job and my ability to work so the last seven months I’ve been able to stay on my parents’ insurance and receive the best cancer care in the world at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.”
He recently had a stem-cell transplant, which was completely covered by his parents’ insurance, and he’s now back in remission. He says he expects to be healthy in the future, and just signed a lease for a new apartment in Seattle. He hopes to move in soon, and start the process of transitioning from being a full-time patient to a young college graduate looking for work.
Thorisson’s thoughts on the ACA?
“Getting cancer was never in my life plan after graduating college. People said you might be unemployed, overworked, etc., but I wasn’t warned about this.
“There are cases like mine that would, were it not for Obamacare, be turned away due to a preexisting condition and slammed by ‘lifetime caps’ and other obstacles. Young people are patients, too.”
Although the percentage of 18- to 25-year-olds without health insurance has been dropping since late 2010, after the ACA provision for those 25 and under went into effect, 23 percent of 18- to 25-years-olds surveyed by Gallup in spring 2012 said they still didn’t have health insurance — in many cases because their parents aren’t covered or can’t afford to pay for another dependent on their plan.
Brian Powers, Sean Klomparens and Ragnar Thorisson recognize they are among the fortunate who do have coverage.
“The only time I ever worried about health care was during the Supreme Court debate that threatened to throw it out. I had not had the epilepsy diagnosis at the time, but I had had two seizures, and I think part of me realized it was only a matter of time.
“The court’s decision really couldn’t have come at a better time.”