10 in Their 20s – Health insurance costs

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(Host) For ten Mondays, VPR is featuring a new series of commentaries from “10 in Their 20s,” in which members of Vermont’s 20-something generation share their perspectives on issues that matter the most to them – from the local to the global. This week Marrisa Caldwell reflects on the high cost of health insurance.

(Caldwell) There is something about exiting your twenties. There’s a feeling that you want to be fully an adult and to have your affairs in order. An almost 30-year old should have a job with some responsibility, one that affords some seniority. As I leave my twenties I finally think of myself as a grown up. To some, having three kids makes me an adult, but until recently I continued to feel that the older people around me were the real adults.

Now that I’m growing into myself and want to have my ducks in a row one of my major concerns is that of health insurance. I feel vulnerable enough, finally, to see health insurance as a necessity rather than a luxury that might come with a good job.

I grew up in a working class family where we lived without health insurance. In my mid twenties I saw the effects of living without health insurance and the disaster it can bring. My 62-year old step-father didn’t have health insurance when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The cancer had gone undiagnosed, though there had been symptoms for some time, because without insurance, he was afraid to go to the doctors and hear that he needed major medical treatment.

The expense of this type of care can run into several hundred thousands of dollars. Imagine being faced with the prospect of finding out that you had cancer, but knowing that knowing about it would make no difference: you still couldn’t pay for the care. This battle that my step father faced, and ultimately lost, made me realize that health insurance is a necessity.

The irony is that I’ve lived a large portion of my twenties without health insurance. I don’t like it, but my husband is self-employed and it doesn’t make economic sense for me to put our three kids into daycare so that I can work at a low wage job just for the health care coverage. Essentially, a job would remove me from my family, my wages paying someone else to care for my children, the only benefit to me being health insurance. A job for me right now would be a money losing proposition; and until this moment, the gamble of being a twenty something without insurance seemed tipped in my favor.

But now, with my age sneaking up on me, and knowing that as I age, I become more likely to really need health insurance, I’m taking steps to buy a health insurance policy.

But the monthly premiums will easily match our monthly mortgage payment on a Burlington home. At the end of the month, there will be nothing left for retirement or college funds. Setting aside my well founded anxiety about not having health insurance, that cost seems insane to me.

I’m Marrisa Caldwell of Burlington.

Marrisa Caldwell is a political activist, school board member, and mother.

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