Sunday, April 17, 2011

Asking the young to think about insurance

I know what you're thinking: "now there's a snoozeworthy topic." That's what I thought when I was 25, too.

Still, "protoblogger" Dave Winer thought it worthy of an entry on entitled, "To the young brilliant minds."

Winer is well-intentioned, and is himself an example of one who needed (and luckily for him, had) catastrophic health care insurance at the not completely expected age of 47. Still, 47 ... that's an eternity away when you're 25, I remember that much. Winer's harangue would have fallen on deaf ears in my case, and I have no doubt that most of today's 25-year-olds feel the same way.

In our twenties we're not even conscious of feeling invulnerable: we just do feel that way. Slowly, fitfully, we come to realize that we're mortal. Some of us receive an unwelcome wakeup call in the form of the death of a friend or family member close to our own age. Many of us find our taste for risk vanishes when we become parents. The rest of us just slow down and become a bit more reflective, a bit more conscious of all we have to lose.

So urging a 20-something to think about health insurance is a losing battle even today, even with the news awash in stories of how health care costs stand to bankrupt the government.

It doesn't help that health insurance as we know it is not altogether wonderful. Consider the case of Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., a neuroanatomist who suffered a stroke at the not so very ripe old age of 37. In her book My Stroke of Insight, Taylor recalled her thoughts as she endured the opening stages of the stroke, waiting for help to arrive:
My paralyzed arm was partially recovered and although it hurt, I felt hopeful that it would recover completely. Yet even in this discombobulated state, I felt a nagging obligation to contact my doctor. It was obvious that I would need emergency treatment that would probably be very expensive, and what a sad commentary that even in this disjointed mentality, I knew enough to be worried that my HMO might not cover my costs in the event that I went to the wrong health center for care.
(My Stroke of Insight, hardcover edition, p. 56)

In any case, the young brilliant minds Winer addresses are not the ones in greatest peril. They're likely in high demand at businesses which provide good health care benefits. Those businesses have long since accepted the need to provide such benefits to stay competitive. On the other hand, some sectors -- the fast food industry comes to mind -- have little incentive to provide those benefits because demand for those jobs far outstrips supply. If you're 25 and you suffer a stroke while you're working as a cashier for McDonalds, good luck footing your medical bills.

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