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Uninsured Americans

Young adults may put health insurance low on their list of priorities, but financial planners and hospitals both say going without coverage is a risk not worth taking.

A car accident or case of appendicitis could land a person of any age in the hospital, and without insurance, with a big bill after being discharged.

Adults younger than 35 are nearly twice as likely to be uninsured as adults 45 and older, according to a report by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Twenty-seven percent of young adults in their 20s have no health insurance, according to a poll conducted by USA Today and the National Endowment for Financial Education.

Until recently, Conza VanEarwage, 21, of Moline, fell into that category. For three years of her adult life, she went without health insurance. As a teenager, her family also went without health insurance for several years when her father was unemployed. Six months ago, she applied for public aid because she is expecting a baby in April.

The jobs she worked during those three years didn't offer health insurance, and she opted not to purchase any on her own. "One of the reasons was I didn't know how to even go about doing that," she said. "I probably wouldn't have been real eager to figure it out because I wouldn't have thought I had money to do it anyway." Not having health insurance wasn't really a worry during that time. "I figured if something dire happened it would work out," she said.

Many young adults decide to risk not having health insurance because they assume they will stay healthy and won't need it. Taking that chance is not a good idea, said John E. Miller, a financial consultant with John E. Miller Financial Services in downtown Rock Island. "It's too risky," he said. Medical bills can cause people to get into major debt "and they can't get out," he said. "Trying to get that paid off is a challenge," he said. "Usually it's impossible." In that case, the patient needs to file for bankruptcy, which will ruin their finances for years, he said. Even a short hospital stay can run into the thousands of dollars.

Leah Turnmire, coordinator of reimbursement for Trinity Regional Health System, said college students typically still are covered under their parents' insurance and many Augustana College students have coverage through the college. However, she often sees young adults who are not in school and who don't have insurance. "A lot of your early 20s, late 20s, the way you see those patients is they come to the Emergency Room," she said. "A lot of them don't have a physician because they are never sick and then all of the sudden you have a bad ear infection or a sore throat."

Typically, the young adults Ms. Turnmire sees without insurance are single, without children. "Ones with kids are on public aid so they are covered," she said.

Trinity offers financial assistance for any patient. The patient fills out a financial application and, based on their income, the number of people in their household and the amount they owe, a payment plan is worked out. The system is based on the federal poverty guidelines. Part or all of the bill also can be waived depending on a person's income, Ms. Turnmire said.

Young adults without insurance often tell Mr. Turnmire they are working at jobs that don't provide it or they can't afford the premiums. Mr. Miller suggests young adults without insurance get a health-insurance plan with a high deductible, but lower premiums. This will cover them in case of an accident or serious illness, but still keep their premiums low.

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