by Andrew Goodwin | Goodwin is the Health Policy Caucus chair of the Virginia Young Democrats, former Barbara Jordan Fellow at Kaiser Family Foundation and former Health Policy Fellow in the Office of U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee.
I graduated from college in the spring of 2009 and arrived in Washington, D.C., with very little understanding of politics, the federal legislative process or health care policy.
That summer, I would dive into what was arguably the most politicized Congress in modern history at the height of the historic health reform debate.
Since passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, the federal government has been implementing portions of the law. Provisions include the option for young people to stay on their family’s insurance plan until the age of 26. Children can no longer be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. This year and in 2014, consumers will experience the start of more benefits, including competitive shopping for coverage and anti-discrimination protections for adults with pre-existing conditions.
These provisions affect me directly. I’m 26 years old with a master’s degree and, until the marketplace coverage starts on Jan. 1, I am one illness away from a financial crisis.
After the passing of my mother in high school, it became extremely hard for my father to take care of his two sons on his own. As I grew older, the opportunity to have coverage through him was never available.
I am keenly aware of the costs associated with unexpected health problems. My older brother had a heart attack at the age of 19 and did not have insurance. Getting sick without health insurance placed a heavy burden on him and ultimately forced him to reconsider college and drop out.
I did not have a tragic health situation during college, graduate school or afterward, but I have been playing Russian roulette for the past three years as I’ve waited for the law to be fully implemented.
Obamacare is more than politics to me; it is my ability to live productively, without the constant worry about a possible health situation that I could not afford.
Not everyone is as lucky as I am and able to take part in the exchanges. Expansion of the Medicaid program would have been a great source of coverage for those who are below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Unfortunately, expanding Medicaid has become a political wrestling match in some states.
Although several states — including a number with conservative governors and state legislatures — are moving forward with expansion, many are refusing federal funds because of politics. Expanding the Medicaid program would give 400,000 Virginians the opportunity for coverage.
Being one illness away from destroying all my success at this young age is unimaginable. I know many young adults in our country share this story. Thankfully, the full implementation of Obamacare means people will feel the tangible benefits soon, including freedom from worry about a future financial crisis.