In 2013, the count was 15.7 million: 15.7 million young adults living in the United States without health insurance.
The Affordable Care Act’s official site was unveiled on October 1 — and the administration wants those 15 million younger, healthier bodies on the docket.
But we’re not signing up. You can’t trust us to have anyone’s back. Many media outlets covering this have not asked why, nor have they bothered to explore the intersections of class and privilege that crowd the issue.
The term "young invincible" was coined in 2010 to reference young people who believe they don’t need insurance because they won’t get sick. The phrase has been brought back around in media coverage in the past month, while many columnists and politicians scratch their heads and wonder, Gee golly, why don’t these elusive young folks want to be insured?
As a 22-year-old who has been injured and reinjured — often needing immediate attention, follow-up care, and therapy — the idea of living without insurance terrifies me. I know how vulnerable I am. And how lucky I am to have both a job with benefits and parents with health insurance. I’m one of the few with options.
Others are not so fortunate. Eighty-two percent of the 15.7 million uninsured millennials live in low- to middle-income households. The job market is paltry and student loans are high; health care becomes hypothetical with more immediate needs to be met.
I read a telling quote in this NPR story. In it, a woman in Long Beach discussed the expensive hospital bills she had to pay out of pocket. She wanted to sign up for ACA, and most likely would because she knew it would help her, but she said, "It's just kind of like, oh God, OK, I have to put ... that money out there. So I really am dragging my feet."
Putting down 100 or even 50 dollars per month is not actually something everyone can do with ease. Young people — especially those with low-incomes — do not want to invest that money in something they see as more abstract than the countless bills that need to be paid right now. Pundits and politicians don’t address this skewed prioritizing, preferring the narrative that those in their twenties and thirties are dangerously self-aggrandizing. It makes it easy to ignore the 82 percent.
Contrary to the cultural belief spearheaded by Time magazine, millennials are not selfish or uninterested in giving back. Nor are we stupid enough to think we don’t need health insurance. But for many of us with rent, and debt to pay, and food to buy, health is lower on the hierarchy — and this is the real problem.