Adulting 101: Navigating Healthcare as a 20-year-old

by Kayla Cherry

“Dallas Buyers Club,” an Oscar-nominated movie, stars Matthew McConaughey as a man who contracts HIV in 1985. After the FDA bars McConaughey ‘s character from trying certain HIV/AIDS medications, he takes matters into his own hands and forms a buyer’s club. He and Jared Leto, who plays a transgender woman also battling HIV/AIDS, dedicate the rest of their lives to acquiring unapproved medications from other countries and selling them to Americans desperate to try methods of care banned by the overarching administration. While the film does unfairly depict the 1980s FDA as rigid and homophobic (the institution actually loosened regulatory reins to help those with HIV/AIDS try experimental therapies), it serves as a dramatic anecdote for the growing predicament of healthcare in the U.S. that seems to leave us with few choices. I’m not saying that we young Americans should all go across the border to get healthcare, but with looming monopolies on hospital prices and rising healthcare costs, we have to learn how to play the game. And playing the game starts with understanding the game.

But why worry now? Our country’s healthcare situation is less than ideal, but at least I’m young and healthy, right? I probably won’t spend that much on healthcare until several years down the road, when I already have a successful career.

Why smart kids like me are dumb about their health

Twenty-somethings like me tend to sweep healthcare under the rug due to time and money constraints. The only deciding factor of whether I get the flu shot any given year is if it’s free. I once sprained my ankle and chose to forgo an x-ray because I felt that I was too busy studying for midterms, only to realize two months later that I had torn a ligament in that ankle. Ironically, I also didn’t want to walk to the Health Center because my ankle hurt.

My dismissal of personal healthcare even extended to my mental health. In my freshman year of college, I fell under the impression that everyone felt as sad as I did and that the great difficulty of finding happiness simply grew with age. I struggled for seven to eight months of 2017, and even as my symptoms worsened I refused to seek treatment because I refused to pay for something that I thought I could fix myself. I had no idea that my depression was genetic and that my dad had wrestled with it at my age as well. I learned the hard way that the costs of avoiding treatment outweighed the costs of getting therapy or at least a screening for depression.

If you’re healthy, you probably don’t think about healthcare on a regular basis. You take a gamble not planning for when you’re sick, and if you do get sick, you decide that it probably won’t happen again and endure the unfair price of treatment for just this one time. We mistake our youth for immunity, and while we probably won’t need to get a gallbladder operation anytime soon, clever awareness about the healthcare system could prevent it from taking advantage of us in the future.

Adulting in action

Not everyone working in the healthcare industry has pure intentions–the rising prices and wide cost discrepancies for the same procedure make clear that some hospitals will take advantage of a commodity that we can’t help but need–our wellbeing. We can help make today’s flawed process more efficient by navigating healthcare in a different way than our parents did. The system needs more collaboration between doctors and patients, and fewer middlemen that complicate the process of paying for care.

The price I paid enduring a depression prolonged by negligence was much higher than any cost of therapy or medication. I don’t want to see any other young person deterred from seeking treatment because of money. Fortunately, we young people have more capacity and power to change this avoidant attitude than we give ourselves credit for.

The Pew Research Center predicts that Millennials will outnumber Baby Boomers by 2019, making up 35% of the labor force. Furthermore, a study by the University of Pennsylvania suggests that it takes 25% of people adhering to a new behavior to mobilize change for the entire community. So although we may feel overwhelmed and powerless by the complexity of healthcare, we certainly have the capacity to demand better treatment and lower costs. Change begins with knowledge, and getting acquainted with our healthcare landscape is a great first step.

About the Author: 

Kayla Cherry studies English and Economics at Rice University, and has had the pleasure of interning at MDsave for the summer of 2018. She plans on learning about the intersection of social impact and business as a consultant after undergrad. When Kayla isn’t lamenting the current healthcare system, she enjoys baking, drawing, and playing soccer with friends.

There are 3 comments

  1. Carmen A.

    Excellent article, Kayla! Good info not only for millennials but also for the rest of us. Being pro active is crucial in our inflated and overly regulated healthcare system. Treating personal healthcare as carefully as other life responsibilities comes with long term benefits for the individual, his family, and the community, in general. It helps one stay healthy and enjoy life with lower risk of limitations (typically caused by chronic illness). It helps families from having to provide care for the sick family member. Not to say that if one was to be actively involved in his own healthcare it cannot happen at all, however the risk is substantially lowered. It helps being less dependent on future medication and/or other expensive procedures thus saving an individual money in the long run. Having been in the mortgage industry for many years I’ve seen a large number of Americans being turned down for mortgage loans due to blemished credit history often caused by unpaid medical bills. It means that unpaid medical expenses will continue to haunt the individual for years, prevent him from getting credit, or getting credit at a much higher cost (interest rate). Thanks again for the well thought articles you write!

    P.S. May I share your articles on my blog?

    1. Kate Steurer-Mucha

      Hi Carmen! We would love it if you shared our articles on your blog. Thank you for your excellent advice – it’s never too early to start taking responsibility for your health. I’ll pass your compliments on to Kayla for her outstanding article!

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