Have you heard of the young invincibles? That’s the name given to young people who think nothing bad can happen to them — healthy people whose enrollment in Obamacare insurance is key to offsetting the costs of older, less healthy buyers.
Brad Stevens is a 54-year-old, not-so-young invincible— recently reformed.
He has been uninsured for most of his adult life. “Ever since about 24 when I finished college. Basically, I’ve always tried to take care of myself and be healthy and exercise and eat right and take vitamins and that type of thing,” he says.
During the three decades Stevens has spent without health coverage, there have been numerous attempts to curb the growing ranks of the uninsured in the U.S. by revamping the nation’s insurance market, including the Affordable Care Act. Stevens is not alone in his uninsured status. Twenty percent of California’s population is uninsured, some 5 million people who could gain coverage under the health law.
The Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed 2,000 of California’s uninsured on the eve of the opening of health care exchanges that were created by the ACA. Stevens participated in the survey, which aims to follow the same group of individuals over the next two years. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.)
Stevens wasn’t interested in the debate over how best to provide health care to the uninsured. He didn’t view it as an issue for him. “I’m the epitome of health, and so I didn’t have much concern. My health care was working out every day, eating right and taking care of myself,” he said.
But that began to change. One day while cycling on the country roads in Lakeport, Calif., where he lives, Stevens took a spill and separated his shoulder. By then, he had worked in a number of jobs, usually working with his hands. He’d been a building contractor, manager of a fruit warehouse, and a massage therapist. In pain for six months and with only $2,000 to his name, Stevens got medical help from the county. Now he bikes in a gym where he sees his clients.
That wasn’t the end of his troubles. One day, he says, “Boom! I ended up with cancer, thyroid cancer.”
Because of the health care law, Stevens will qualify for Medicaid, the federal program for low income families and individual. Before the health law, being covered by Medicaid was available only to children, pregnant women and the disabled. Now all low income people in states that are expanding Medicaid will qualify. Stevens earns less than $15,000 a year in his struggling massage business.
Stevens says he is relieved that he won’t have to worry about being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, another change made by the health care law. Besides his battle with thyroid cancer, which is being controlled with medications, and a separated shoulder, his mother and aunt have multiple sclerosis. He’s avoided getting tested for the disease out of fear that the results would make it impossible to qualify for insurance.
Stevens says he worries about people like his massage patients. “People are hurting, and they need help, and I don’t think Congress has a clue. Fifty-five-year-old people are falling apart. They can’t swing a hammer till they’re 70 or 80, like some congressman who sits at a desk and jaws.”
Once he occasionally went to the county fairgrounds when a volunteer group offered free medical check ups. Now he is anxious to sign up for Medicaid, although he hopes he won’t have any additional medical issues. “I hope I don’t need to use it,” he says. “I’m thinking I’m going to get a peace of mind from it.”
This story was produced in collaboration with NPR.