One aspect common to most of the health care reform proposals currently being considered by Congress is a government mandate that all individuals must have health insurance. If individuals are not covered by their employers, they will be forced to buy a private plan or possibly to buy into a government plan, or “public option.” There are many relevant questions in this debate, including: Who are the currently uninsured, why are they uninsured and why must we force them to buy coverage? Proposals in Congress might solve the “problem” of the uninsured, but will it have any real benefits? And is this the best way to fix the problem while still recognizing each individual’s autonomy to make their own choice?
The consensus among politicians and political commentators is that approximately 46 million Americans are uninsured. Of that number, the largest identifiable group is young people, accounting for around 13 million. They are recent college graduates. They are students in between undergraduate and graduate school and young professionals in their first or second jobs. They are entrepreneurs taking risks while they are young and have no one to account for but themselves.
I belong to this group. I am 23 years old and have chosen not to purchase health insurance. Four months ago, I left a job that included employer-provided health insurance to work for a start-up nonprofit called Students for Liberty. The organization is young and I took an entrepreneurial risk when I decided to come on board. I took this risk with full knowledge of the decision I was making. My income at my new job is not great: roughly $25,000 a year, which doesn’t get you very far in Washington, D.C., where I live. But with good budgeting, I could afford a private health insurance plan if I wanted to. I am simply choosing not to purchase one.
For many young professionals, this is a rational decision. Young and healthy individuals receive very little benefit from health insurance. Why pay for insurance that we do not use? We choose to use our little disposable income on other investments such as our own savings and personal health. I would rather spend money on my gym membership and a healthy eating plan than health insurance, and I consider myself fortunate to be in a position where I can choose to not buy insurance that I don’t want and don’t need. I, for one — and many other recent graduates in my situation — don’t want to be forced by the government to buy a product with little discernible benefit.
The common rebuttal to my claim is that young people like me are part of the current problem. We don’t buy insurance, and then when we get sick, we go to the emergency room, get treated, don’t pay our bills and run up the cost for everyone else. We are taking risks and asking everyone else to pay for it.
I agree that this is a problem with the status quo that needs to be fixed. My solution is to change the laws that require hospital emergency rooms to treat everyone. I will gladly sign a waiver stating that no hospital is obligated to treat me. If I am unable to pay for a hospital’s service, than it should be able to turn me away just like any other business. This leaves very clear options in the consumer’s hand: (1) buy insurance, (2) save enough to pay for your care on your own, or (3) take the risk of opting out of insurance with full knowledge of that risk.
The government should not force young people to buy insurance — it should allow us to make our own choice and to do what is best for ourselves based on our own judgment. Those advocating a government mandate do not think we are capable of making that choice and want to make it for us. I, for one, reject this authoritarian, nanny-state view of the government’s role in society, and I know that I am not alone.
Clark Ruper is a University alum and the Program Manager for Students for Liberty.