It is birthday week for the Affordable Care Act, the official name of the health reform law passed a year ago. Previous CJR town halls have suggested that ordinary people, millions of whom are supposed to be helped by the Act, know little or nothing about it. But what about young adults who will benefit from one of the Act’s best provisions—-being able to stay on their parents’ insurance until age twenty-six? Of any group, it’s students who arguably should know the most. So in honor of the Act’s first birthday I ambled down to the campus of New York University to chat with students hanging around in cafes, sitting on benches, and studying in buildings. Almost every one I approached answered apologetically that he or she knew nothing about the law. Some students had come from families of doctors. But their knowledge of the law differed little from those who didn’t.
Sarah Humphrey, age twenty, was standing outside a building where she takes drama classes. She’s majoring in musical theater; jobs being what they are for aspiring actresses, she knew getting health insurance could be a problem someday. “I know it (the law) makes health care more accessible,” Humphrey told me. “Considering I’m in the arts, it will make it more accessible for me.” She didn’t know how. As we talked more, she mentioned a couple other things about the law. Her parents were medical researchers for a drug company in New Jersey, and “they think they are going to be paid less but they don’t mind,” Humphrey said. “I was under the impression health care will cost less marginally because doctors will be paid less. I acknowledge that may be wrong because I live in a bit of a bubble.”
I asked when she would be off her parents’ insurance policy. “As soon as I’m out of the house, which is probably pretty soon,” she said. Did she know that she could stay on the policy until she turns twenty-six—six years from now? “I never heard of that. That’s very useful,” she said, and thanked me for telling her. Humphrey said she got most of her information from her peers and from the Internet. “How blessed we are to have Google,” she said. “If I had to go to the library I would know nothing.”
Twenty-one-year-old Dhara Patel from Yonkers will graduate in May with a degree in psychology. Her goal is to attend medical school in a year, but in the meantime she has applied for a teaching fellowship while she goes through the application process. “I don’t really know much,” she said. “I’m not up-to-date on the health care issues. I’m just too busy with school.” She did know that the law would affect her “greatly”, she told me. “I have the main idea,” she explained. “It’s very expensive, and the service isn’t fair for the amount of money we’re paying.” She was particularly upset with NYU’s student health plan. She pays a $25 copayment to see a dermatologist who is treating her, and has spent $1000 out-of-pocket for medication, pointing out that the student plan had a yearly cap on medication. “For the last two refills I had to pay out of pocket,” she said. “I paid $900 for the medication.”
Patel said she was no longer on her parents’ health insurance policy “because I’m over twenty and my parents’ policies don’t cover kids over nineteen.” Her mother just got laid off from a bank job, but her father, a computer technician, still has coverage. She, too, knew nothing about staying longer on her dad’s insurance. “I don’t think my dad knows,” she said.
Our conversation touched on how she gets her news, and Patel had strong opinions about that. Lately, she has been trying to keep up on the news by going to CNN.com, the BBC, Yahoo headlines or Google News—“something,” she says, “that’s vocabulary friendly and not too long.” What about The New York Times—-a paper that certainly has covered health care. “It’s too long,” she said. “It’s dreadful to read; why are all those big words there? They should make an article short and sweet and get to the point,” adding that she did not like the way the paper criticizes people. “Everyone has a right to express their feelings and emotions.”
As our chat ended, Patel said she was “happy people are getting health care.” Are they getting it now, I asked? “I don’t know,” she said.