Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Opinion

Column: Doctor's orders, young people: Get insurance

A shameful campaign is under way to discourage our nation's youth from getting health insurance. As a mother of four young children and a doctor, I hope our young people will be smart enough to take care of themselves and ignore these dishonest efforts.

Generation Opportunity, a Koch brothers-funded group, is employing scare tactics with ads depicting Uncle Sam as a creepy doctor. They are also visiting college campuses and giving away free beer, food and iPads trying to persuade our kids not to get coverage on the health insurance marketplace. The campaign is hitting the road this fall and targeting youths on a college campus near you. This should shock you as it does me.

This campaign is personally offensive to doctors like me who spend their lives caring for patients. Beyond that, the group's efforts are reckless and irresponsible. Affordable health care for young people means a healthier, more financially secure future.

No one plans to get in a car accident or to develop cancer. But most people will need medical care at some point in their lives. I have witnessed some heartbreaking stories of people driven into bankruptcy or saddled with a lifetime of ruined credit simply because they got sick. But that doesn't have to be the case any longer.

Open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act has begun and will last until March 31. Even if the healthcare.gov website is frustratingly slow and balky right now, it's vitally important that the uninsured who are eligible sign up during the enrollment period — especially young people who stand to benefit greatly.

I currently am caring for a 28-year-old uninsured woman who has developed a severe skin condition that is not only painful, but also so severe that she remains indoors most of the time due to her open and oozing skin lesions. Her care has been severely limited by her lack of insurance.

We have been unable to obtain skin biopsies — to make a clear diagnosis — and complex laboratory evaluations that would cost thousands of dollars for an uninsured patient. We have had to use cheaper medications with severe side effects because more appropriate medications are unaffordable. On Oct. 1 she was able to purchase a health insurance policy via the marketplace. Her life has changed, and she knows that on Jan. 1 she will finally have access to the health care she badly needs.

The combination of age rating, more comprehensive coverage and subsidies will make insurance on the marketplace a good value for young people and a great way to manage health and financial risk. If you don't get covered and you break your leg, it would easily cost you $2,500. These costs could be greatly mitigated through new insurance options. A young, healthy nonsmoker in Miami-Dade County would pay as little as $108.98 a month for a low-cost catastrophic plan. In the end, young adults will have comprehensive affordable coverage and peace of mind that an unexpected accident or illness will not devastate them physically and financially.

If the combination of fending off financial ruin and cheap coverage is not enough for young people, there is also the minor matter of their health. While the popular image of young people paints them as the picture of health, that does not mean they cannot benefit from regular checkups and preventive care. Annual checkups are a great way to get counseling about how to stay healthy. You can get screening without any extra cost — and catch early problems that can be taken care of much more easily and cheaply than if you wait. And young women can now get their birth control at no added cost.

The bottom line: Purchasing insurance is good for your wallet and good for your health. Those who encourage young people not to enroll are clearly more motivated by politics than policy. They have chosen to put politics ahead of patients' lives. Don't fall for it.

Coverage is good medicine. Take it from a doctor, not an actor in a creepy Uncle Sam costume.

Dr. Mona V. Mangat, a board-certified allergist and immunologist in St. Petersburg at Bay Area Allergy & Asthma, is a board member of Doctors for America, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for a better health care system where every person has access to high-quality, affordable health care. She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

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