By Quita Tinsley
February 15th is “National Youth Enrollment Day” for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly referred to as “Obamacare.” In fact, this is the last day one can enroll in the marketplace in order to get a health policy that will go into effect by March 1st. As a youth leader of SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW, a health justice advocacy organization in Atlanta, GA, I am excited to tell other youth about signing up for health care tomorrow. Yet, National Youth Enrollment Day means so much more to me.
In the popular debate about health care, TV analysts often describe young people as aloof to the massive issue of health care reform. They dismiss our lack of enrollment as not desiring health insurance because most of us are “healthy.” They argue that Millennials don’t care about Obamacare and call us the “young invincibles.”
Perhaps the passive viewer buys what these pundits say and never question why they aren’t talking to young people. Why they aren’t asking Millennials if they want affordable health care. This is wrong, and young people deserve to be heard. As a young, queer, Black woman living in the South, on the eve of National Youth Enrollment Day, I will share my story with you.
While enrolled in college in 2010, I was covered under my mother’s health insurance policy. A factory worker, my mother was one of the few blue-collar, low wage workers to have health insurance coverage. During a “temporary” lay-off her employer, without her knowledge or consent, canceled her health insurance policy leaving us both without coverage. Unfortunately, we did not discover this fact until a $400 medical bill arrived from one of my doctor’s visit. This might not seem like a large sum, but for my mother struggling to make ends meet with a daughter in college, this was huge. Shortly thereafter, she was permanently laid off by her employer, and we have both been without health insurance.
My story is not unique. African Americans are 55 percent more likely to be uninsured than White Americans and account for 20 percent of the uninsured in the US. Nationally, 6.8 million African Americans eligible for coverage are uninsured with 55 percent (3.8 million) having family incomes 100 percent below the Federal Poverty Line. 3.2 million (47 percent) are young adults ages 18 to 35, and of this figure, 1.3 million (41 percent) are women.
The figures are staggering. And yet, while we fight to live long, healthy lives – overcome health disparities and their causes – insurance companies are fighting for their bottom-lines pressuring consumers into more expensive insurance plans and concealing the benefits of the ACA. Let’s be clear, when a multi-million dollar company says they can’t afford to provide health care to their employees, what they are actually saying is that saving a buck and turning a profit means more to them than the safety and health of their workers.
Unfortunately, this behavior is all too common and is mirrored by our elected officials. Instead of rallying for our best interests, many have tried their best to halt the promise of the ACA, even going so far as to shut down the Federal government to prevent its implementation and rejecting key measures of the policy that could save the lives of millions. As of February 7, 2014, 25 states (Georgia included) have opted to not expand Medicaid eligibility, denying health care coverage to the estimated 1.7 million young African Americans ages 18 to 34 that would be eligible for Medicaid coverage if all states participate in the ACA’s Medicaid expansion program. In a state home to 631,000 uninsured African Americans, Governor Deal’s decision to reject federal subsidies and not expand Medicaid is mindboggling.
Furthermore, naysayers attribute low-enrollment of young adults in the health care marketplace to the eventual failure of this health care reform. While simultaneously blocking low-income young people from receiving coverage. How can the policy live up to its potential when those most in need are being denied access? An estimated 500,000 African American young adults have already received coverage under a provision of the ACA that allows youth to stay on their parent’s insurance plan until age 26. But what about the 40 percent of LGBTQQ homeless youth? Where do they turn for health care coverage?
The ACA has provided a needed foundation for establishing competent, quality health care in the US, however, there is much more work to be done to ensure that the millions living without coverage can have access to care. As our elected officials roll the dice on our health care and our lives, we have to use our collective power to put pressure on our local governments and demand that they take action to expand Medicaid.
Yes, I am a youth — one of many living in the South who care about our health destiny.
Join us and SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday, February 20th for our 7th Annual LegislateTHIS! statewide day of action and lobby event as we stand for Medicaid expansion and health justice for all!
Visit www.getcoveredamerica.org to find local “National Youth Enrollment Day” events in your area.
Quita is a self-described ‘city girl, with small town roots.’ She is a graduate of Georgia State University (the real GSU) with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, a concentration in Public Relations and minor in Sociology. Due to the power of capitalism, she moonlights as a recruiter for a staffing agency in Metro Atlanta.
She was a participant in SPARK’s 2013 FYRE Media Justice Camp and a former Communications and Programs intern. She’s a femme, a feminist and a woman of color. She believes in the power of storytelling and validation of lived experiences. She hopes to continue fighting oppression and uplifting silenced people, all while wearing a stylish bow and lipstick.