A University of Wisconsin-Madison student gave his interpretation of young voters’ expectations for health care reform at a recent press conference organized by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office.
“I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease six years ago at the age of twenty-one, right around the time that my eligibility expired on my parents’ health insurance plan,” said Eric O’Connor at the March 17 press conference. “Every important decision I have made in life since then has been affected by my daily need for expensive medicines and doctors visits, things that I could not afford without health insurance,” he said.
O’Connor has since been diagnosed with an auto-immune disease which slowly kills the liver, he said. However, he currently has insurance through his employer, the University.
O’Connor spoke representing the Young Invincibles, a group that is “fiscally sponsored” by the D.C.-based Center for Community Change. He complained that his health is not “guaranteed” by the system. “The current system of health care enrollment that’s primarily tied to one’s employer is outdated and insufficient for guaranteeing the good health of America’s young people,” he said. “It was insufficient for guaranteeing my health” (emphases added).
“I know my story is not harrowing, that there are many others sicker than me but the anxiety of knowing that I am expensive to keep healthy and that I currently have no reasonable access to health insurance beyond my employer is terrifying,” he said.
But how terrifying is O’Connor’s situation, exactly, even disregarding the recently-passed Obamacare? (The Young Invincibles and O’Connor both supported Democrats’ health reform efforts.)
The state of Wisconsin operates a high-risk insurance pool, the Health Insurance Risk-Sharing Plan (HIRSP), which—should O’Connor lose his employer-based health coverage—would allow him to apply for coverage.
According to the HIRSP website, if a person involuntarily loses his or her employer health coverage and “applied to HIRSP within 63 days of losing your employer-offered group health insurance, including COBRA if offered,” he might be eligible for the high-risk pool insurance and also be able to waive the “pre-existing condition waiting period.” The waiting period does not apply to enrollee’s prescription medications, which HIRSP covers.
In an earlier video for the Young Invincibles, published to YouTube in August 2009, O’Connor states that he had employer-based coverage in Western New York but then left for Denver, Colorado for schooling purposes. He went a year without coverage, he says.
“I would have paid quite a bit of money to have health insurance out there but no one would accept me because I had Crohn’s disease, you know, or more generally the dreaded preexisting condition,” says O’Connor in the 2009 video. “One of the first things [that] I did when I arrived in Madison and got health insurance was go see a doctor.”
CoverColorado “provides health insurance to individuals with pre-existing medical conditions,” according to its website. If O’Connor were in Colorado without health insurance today he would automatically qualify for the Cover Colorado program, which keeps a listing of medical conditions “that make you automatically eligible for CoverColorado,” according to the website.
Crohn’s disease is one of those listed conditions.
However, if history is prologue, then federally mandated access to “affordable” health insurance will not necessarily lead to more available quality health care, as demonstrated by the history of government interventions such as Medicaid and Medicare.
A coalition of groups including Young Invincibles and Campus Progress joined the Speaker for her press conference on March 17 in support of health reform and the student loan overhaul included in the reconciliation bill. The President will sign the reconciliation bill, with minor changes, into law tomorrow.
Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.