When I asked twenty-eight-year-old Rebecca Krauss what she knew about the health law, she quickly replied “nothing . I’m a pretty healthy person, so health care issues don’t tend to affect me.” She did, however, know that she had two kinds of coverage—the NYU student plan and an individual policy from Blue Cross that her parents were paying for. Krauss, who is a grad student in urban planning, said she switched back and forth between the policies depending on what she had to pay for her medicines. NYU has a “very low maximum” for drug expenses, she explained. She said the number that sticks in her head is $2000. “I’m over it in two months.” I asked if anyone had told her that the health law said insurance could no longer have annual caps on coverage, a provision that took effect last September. “Nobody told me the cap had been lifted,” Krauss said. “I tried to get the NYU drug coverage in November. They were rejecting my claims.”
Like others I interviewed, Krauss said she “tended to be more of a headline reader than look[ing] for any depth.” The exception was stories about sustainability and urban planning. “Health care is not a topic of interest. It probably should be. But I’m not paying for it yet,” she said.
Nineteen-year-old Nikki Mokrzycki, a sophomore from Medina, Ohio, did know that she could stay on her parents’ health insurance until she turned twenty-six. Her parents knew that and told her over Christmas break. “I wish I knew more about this,” she told me. “I sound like some dumb kid who doesn’t know anything.” She said she would be interested in reading more about health care if she had the time, but now confines her reading to issues about food and the environment, her major interests. “If I read a health care article, there would be lots of terms I don’t understand so I would need some background on it,” she said.
Sarah Schneider, age twenty-two, was eating a bowl of noodle soup when I met her at a Japanese food store on Third Avenue. Her father is a cardiologist and her mother a psychologist. “I come from a medical family and know surprisingly little,” she explained. Schneider knew she could remain covered on her parents’ health plans until she was twenty-six. I asked her how she knew that. “My friends have talked about it,” she said.
She thought about what she knew about the health care law. “I heard something about health care remaining private and everyone has to have it. But is that universal,” she asked. She then asked me a question. “Do you want to tell me more about the law in case someone asks me?” Schneider did say she read the Times science section and the articles there about health. It was just health policy stuff that turned her off.
I next stopped a couple of journalism students, thinking they might be more up on the health law since news, of course, is their business. A twenty-seven-year-old graduate student named Jessica, who would not give her last name, was frank. “I know nothing about the health care law,” she said. “I don’t remember hearing anything about it. Maybe I tuned out because it doesn’t affect me.” She says she has coverage through her husband’s insurance, and has used the coverage only once. I asked her what she read. “The Times online and CNN.com,” she replied. “I weed out what I don’t want to read.”
At first, thirty-three-year-old Joaquin Andrade, a journalism grad student, didn’t want to chat. He was Brazilian—a TV reporter, he said—and thought I should be talking to an American. But the more we chatted, the more it became clear he knew about the U.S. health care law—in fact, he knew much more than the American students in my admittedly small sample. He told me that when he learned he would be coming to the U.S., he had read the news to learn what was happening in the country. He knew the health law passed a year ago, and that if you’re not covered, you will have to be. “I believe the bill has passed but it takes time for the changes to come,” he told me. Bingo. That was spot on. “The insurance companies were mad because it will cost them more money.” Andrade knew from his reading that insurers, at least publicly, were not keen on the law. He had also read about the controversy over mammography, and explained what some of it was about.