Commentary: Why You Really Need Health Insurance

Young adults need to enroll in the health insurance marketplace opening next month.

Posted: 09/11/2013 10:54 AM EDT

From now until the end of the year, you are going to be bombarded with a lot of news about health care and the health insurance marketplace that opens on Oct. 1. Yes, it’s confusing. Yes, there are a lot of words being thrown around that don't make sense to most folks. Who really understands what premiums, tax breaks and subsidized plans are?

And while the President Obama and the White House has put a lot of money into programs aimed at educating the public about these new changes, it seems that these messages have fallen on deaf ears, especially among young folks.

A recent Commonwealth Fund survey found that a mere 27 percent of young Americans are aware of these new health insurance changes. Even worse: Only 19 percent of uninsured young people, and only 18 percent of low-income young folks knew how to access these new plans.

This lack of knowledge is a problem. 

Young people make up one of the largest groups to benefit from all of these health care changes, given that they make up the largest group that is uninsured. Not only that, but once you turn 27, you can no longer be on your parents insurance. If you don’t have a job that offers coverage, what are you going to do?

I didn’t have health insurance for years when I was in my 20s. I felt invincible: Nothing was going to happen to me. And while I put on this front and got defensive every time I was asked if I had health insurance, I really was living in fear.

What if I had an STD, HIV, high blood pressure, pre-diabetes or a lump in my breast? Or what if I had gotten into an accident?

How would I have paid for screenings without health care? And even worse, back then it wasn’t illegal for health insurance companies to deny you for pre-existing conditions. So if I were diagnosed with something, the chances of me getting coverage would have been extremely slim.

Denial wasn’t the only factor that stood in my way of health care — money was a huge barrier too. Deep down inside, I wanted health care. I couldn’t afford it. After paying rent and bills, there was little left to shell out for coverage.

And while the ACA isn’t perfect, one good thing about it is that with these new plans and through Medicaid expansion, 82 percent of uninsured young people are now eligible for subsidized insurance. Which means you won't have to pay an arm and leg for health care. 

And health coverage is key, especially since African-Americans disproportionately suffer from a range of chronic diseases that are mostly preventable. Sadly, diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and even strokes are no longer illnesses that our parents and grandparents suffer from — they are your problem, too. And unless you know your numbers and get screenings, you have no idea what you are suffering from.

And it’s the not knowing that is truly scary.

But you don’t have to live in the dark when it comes to your health anymore. Now is the time to take charge and figure out which plan works best for you. Remember: Health care isn't a luxury, it’s a right. So take advantage of yours.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Siri Stafford/Getty Images)

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