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Health Care Coverage: Without It, Life’s a Slippery Slope

On a crisp winter morning last year, I drove through the mountains of Appalachia to a small ski resort in western Pennsylvania with my friend Sam. Though I had grown up visiting local slopes each season, Sam was nervous and excited to face the mountain for the first time. Sam was a quick learner, and after showing him some of the fundamentals, he had cautiously maneuvered down the bunny slope multiple times by lunch.

A few hours later, things took a turn for the worse. Sam, confident from his successful morning outing, insisted on attempting a blue trail of intermediate difficulty. With the slope steeper than anticipated, Sam zoomed straight down the mountain, losing full control. Sam’s ski bumped a tree, sending him flying through the air. The medical staff on site responded by immediately whisking him to the emergency room.

As two young, healthy men in our twenties, Sam and I never expected anything to happen to either of us. We felt invincible. After all, growing up, we had only visited the doctor for annual checkups, routine vaccinations, and the occasional strep test. As an adult, I’ve stayed on my parent’s health insurance coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act, but not everyone can exercise that privilege. In college, Sam was covered under the university’s student health plan, but upon graduation he lost that coverage. Working multiple part-time jobs, he didn’t qualify for employer-sponsored insurance and had to go looking for his insurance himself. As indestructible as he felt, Sam understood the importance of having a safety net and bought health coverage on DC Health Link, the District of Columbia’s marketplace. These marketplaces, created under the Affordable Care Act, have been instrumental in ensuring that people like Sam have access to quality health care when they need it. Sam even qualified for a premium tax credit, making the plan affordable on his modest salary.

Sam ultimately suffered a broken collarbone, but his decision to purchase health insurance on the marketplace saved him from the tens of thousands of dollars of medical debt he would have incurred from ambulance, hospital, and surgical fees. If he had been uninsured, Sam would not have been able to afford his monthly rent or pay off his student loans. The accident and subsequent medical bills would have also prompted drastic, life-altering consequences, including a move back home to Cleveland and a postponement of Sam’s graduate school plans. 

The Affordable Care Act has made it easier than ever before for young people to get covered at reasonable rates. On November 1, the open enrollment period begins where you can explore the different plans offered in the marketplace and sign up for health insurance to ensure you’re covered for next year. Remember that nine out of ten people qualify for a federal tax credit on the marketplace, and one in three returning shoppers who receive a tax credit are eligible for a plan of $10 or less. Shoppers have until December 15 to purchase their plans, so be sure to act quickly if your employer does not offer you coverage. 


Alex Soltany is a research and communications fellow with the Alliance for Health Policy and a research assistant with Health Affairs. He recently graduated as a John Montgomery Belk Scholar from Davidson College with a degree in Middle Eastern Studies and Pre-Medicine.