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Programs help mitigate young people’s struggles

Delaware Online on October 28, 2012
Kelly Bothum and Kelly April Tyrrell, The News Journal

Mercades Allison has a part-time job, an internship and an associate degree earned this year from the Delaware College of Art and Design. She’s already plotting her return to college for her bachelor’s degree next fall with the hopes of winding up with a career in graphic design.

What she doesn’t have is health insurance. Allison is one of an estimated 41,000 people between the ages of 18 and 34 who lack health coverage in Delaware, according to an analysis of census data by the Young Invincibles, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group .

“I try not to think about it, but when I think about it, it does worry me, because anything could happen,” said Allison, 21, of Wilmington, who had previously been covered by her mother’s health plan. “I’ve been healthy all my life, but I need a checkup, though. I haven’t had one in two or three years.”

Delaware’s rate of young uninsured people is 21 percent, lower than the national average of 28 percent. Overall, people in the 18-34 group are still the lowest proportion of people insured, said Jen Mishory, deputy director of Young Invincibles, which looks at college affordability, health insurance and debt as key issues affecting young people.

Access to health coverage is a key challenge for young adults, as many young workers take part-time jobs that don’t provide insurance coverage or they don’t qualify for government programs like Medicaid, Mishory said.

President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act allows parents to add dependent children up to age 26, regardless of education or marital status, if they don’t have insurance options from an employer. Experts say that’s the main reason about 1.6 million more young people have health coverage, according to recent statistics.

“I think one thing we’re heard in talking to lot of people is that young people generally want to be covered. They certainly don’t want to play the odds,” Mishory said. “If you take the number of people who signed up, it’s a good demonstration that people actively are choosing to get covered.”

Madeline Deveney, 17, of Pike Creek, was born with cystic fibrosis, a progressive lung disease resulting in expensive medications and frequent hospitalizations. A transplant may be needed to replace her damaged lungs.

Her mother, Bethann, is happy her daughter can remain insured through college and can’t be denied because of her pre-existing condition. The abolished lifetime limit provided under the new health law means the family doesn’t have to worry about Madeline hitting a coverage ceiling.

Madeline was fortunate enough to qualify for Medicaid years ago and she’ll be able to transition to Medicare when she turns 18. As long as she can keep two forms of insurance, the costs of her treatments are manageable.

“For me, it’s even more peace of mind. After college, she’ll get a good job and be able to work and get good insurance and go from there,” Bethann Deveney said. “It took the pressure off how I viewed her future and our financial stability as a family, how she’ll be able to financially pay for her disease and get some quality of life.”

About 35,000 of the 41,000 currently uninsured young adults in Delaware would qualify for Medicaid or some level of subsidies in 2014 under the new health care law, Mishory said.

Denise Thomas, 39, already has coverage through Medicaid. But she expects that to change next month after she opens Cafe D’Lish, a small eatery in her Cool Spring neighborhood.

She was previously uninsured after being laid off, and during that time, she racked up thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills after being diagnosed with stage 3 liver disease last year. She qualified for Medicaid after her unemployment ran out.

Although she is recovering, she still requires three daily medications and visits to doctors about every three weeks. Medicaid covers the cost of her visits, but she still has piles of bills from when she was uninsured, bills she says she doesn’t even open because she can’t pay them.

“My problem now is once my Medicaid is over, how will I be able to afford any insurance? The whole thing is a scary prospect,” Thomas said.