Many of us know by now that 46 million Americans do not have health insurance. Lost in this figure, however, are the 13 million young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who are uninsured. Few people associate health care with students, and most students do not even think about health care until it directly affects their lives. But young adults represent a disproportionate number of the uninsured, and they stand to gain from President Barack Obama’s health insurance reform proposals in numerous ways.

Two weeks ago, after months of debate in Washington and across the country, Obama delivered an address to Congress in which he clearly outlined the basic elements that health insurance reform should include. One of the central components of Obama’s plan is a health insurance exchange, which would make health care more affordable by increasing competition in the market for individual coverage. The health insurance exchange would be a marketplace where individuals and small businesses shop for the best option from all of the participating plans. All the plans that participate in the exchange would be required to provide a minimum level of coverage to ensure quality of care.

The health insurance exchange would benefit students since many students will be dropped from their parents’ insurance plans upon graduation and will be forced to shop the individual market for coverage. The economic downturn has strained many employers and forced them to make tough cutbacks to survive, and one of the first benefits to suffer cuts has been health insurance — over 12,000 people lose their health insurance every day. Many new employees in entry-level positions, including recent graduates, are increasingly left without access to quality, affordable health care. An insurance exchange is a market-based approach that would help young adults afford individual coverage and help small businesses provide coverage to their employees. Obama has also proposed requiring insurance companies to cover students under their parents’ health care plans until age 26, thereby buffering students in their transition from school to the job market.

Obama’s reform proposals would not only expand access to coverage but also prevent insurance companies from abusing their power to the detriment of their patients. Under current law, for example, insurance companies are able to deny coverage to people who have preexisting conditions or drop people’s coverage when they are sick and need it most. But under Obama’s plan, insurance companies would be prohibited from doing either of those things. Health insurance reform would ensure that the people who need care the most have access to the coverage that they need at a price they can afford.

Comprehensive health insurance reform is urgently needed to control skyrocketing costs of care. Health insurance premiums have doubled since 2000, but real wages remained stagnant during that time. Without reform, the cost of an employer-sponsored health care plan is expected to rise dramatically. This increase would hit young adults hardest, as they work in entry-level jobs and often bear a debt burden from higher education costs.

Whether or not students follow politics, they clearly have a vested interest in the ongoing health care debate. Last November, young Americans showed that they can make an impact on the direction of our country. The thousands of students that worked on Obama’s campaign last fall and the millions of young people that voted for him played a vital role in his victory.

As tThis fall, students should follow the health care debate closely and mobilize to support the President’s proposed reforms. he reform effort continues, young people should consider the crisis of increasing health care costs and think about their own prospects after college with regard to health insurance. Then, students should make their voices heard. Students and all Americans should also consider the question of morality. Is it right for a nation as wealthy as ours to allow its citizens to go without the health care they need?

This viewpoint was written on behalf of the University’s chapter of the College Democrats.

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