When I snapped the ACL in my left knee just days before I was supposed to leave home for my final semester of college, my first thought was not about whether or not I could afford the $200 emergency room fee. I was 22 and like many middle-class millennials at that time, was still on my parents' blessedly comprehensive medical insurance. I didn't worry about how much my various pre-surgery consults were going to cost, or how much my gigantic titanium knee brace would be out of pocket. I didn't worry about my surgery, which, like most ACL reconstructions, cost upward of $30,000 before insurance covered it entirely.
Now, four years later, I'm married, on my own working my first post-grad job, and living paycheck to paycheck. And that means I'm one of the millennials who, to a stranger, may seem like they're afraid to go to the doctor. But in reality, many millennials literally cannot afford to get annual checkups, preventative care, or cover the cost of so-called "elective surgeries" — like gender affirmation surgery, which people actually need, but insurance doesn't always cover. And that has repercussions for millennials and for the healthcare industry.
As both a millennial and a bona-fide hypochondriac, I make a lot of self-deprecating jokes about Googling anxiety-driven symptoms. But those jokes become a lot less funny when I see my millennial friends talking about Googling their own (very real, and very serious) symptoms or putting off a visit to the doctor because they're unable to pay for even the visit, let alone for any necessary care their doctor may prescribe.
According to Forbes, 93 percent of millennials don't schedule preventative healthcare visits. Instead, we head to urgent care clinics if we get sick, "access medical advice online, and choose to read health blogs for information on health-related matters," Andrew Arnold writing for Forbes noted. Presented that way, that information makes millennials sound like irresponsible WebMD devotees who have all the resources at our fingertips, but shun them in lieu of reading blogs that extol the curative properties of apple cider vinegar.
Here's the thing, though. As someone with fifty grand in student loans, whose household recently went from two incomes to one, my financial situation is not uncommon among millennials, and I can tell you that affording bills on an entry-level salary is often not feasible. Money I would ideally use for preventative care copays often goes toward things like, you know, rent, and keeping my lights on, and my many student loan payments. Though I live in Canada, getting province-provided healthcare as a permanent resident is a process, and right now, I just don't have a safety net.
For folks in the U.S. who simply aren't able to afford insurance, or whose health insurance may not be cover their bills, the costs for getting sick can be staggering. An average visit to the emergency room costs more than the average month's rent, according to The Washington Post. I've been in a position where I had to tell my doctor's office I couldn't afford my $20 appointment copay on the day of, so I know exactly how appealing it is for millennials who are underinsured to keep putting off preventative visits simply out of shame.
I won't deny that, right now, there's a little bit of living on a prayer happening for me. I'm hoping my body will keep itself together long enough for my province insurance to kick in, and for my household to become more financially stable. But the truth is, if something major were to happen, I'm not sure what I would do. And if I were still living in the States with insurance, there's a strong possibility things would be even worse, considering the challenges millennials are facing as many of us turn 26 and age out of the Obamacare-era protection allowing us to stay on our parents' health insurance.
As things were supposed to be, millennials aging off their parents' health insurance would have been able to "shop relatively easily for their own insurance on Obamacare marketplaces," TIME reported. But that's not happening, thanks to the Trump administration's revisions to the law.
Emily Curran, a research fellow at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute, told TIME that there's a "barrier where young adults are having the difficulty understanding what the value of insurance is." But at least in my experience, it's not that we don't understand the value of insurance — I certainly live in fear of being saddled with a $30,000 hospital bill should my knee give out again — it's just that we think affordable healthcare is a right, not a privilege that should be controlled by corporations. And on top of that, we literally do not have the money to fork over for costly insurance premiums.
So where does that leave us? Well, the very same internet-savvy attitude that we're criticized for aims us toward crowdfunding. We millennials use everything from Patreon to Ko-fi to GoFundMe to help each other take care of our basic needs, healthcare included. Some have suggested that crowdfunded medicine is a sort of socialized healthcare, and that's certainly plausible. On my social media feeds, it's common for people to ask for help when they need it — and to give help in return when they're able.
But the thing is, people shouldn't have to crowdfund lifesaving operations. They shouldn't have to hope their social media followers have some spare cash because they're about to run out of medications they need to keep them alive. This narrative that millennials are childishly doctor-fearing, that we're willfully not taking advantage of the healthcare riches provided to us, simply doesn't mesh with reality.
I'm sure there are people who will say that expecting others to pay for our healthcare, whether via taxes or donation, is so typical millennial. Expecting everything to be given to us, gift-wrapped. Expecting gilded handouts at no cost to us, participation trophies for just being alive. And you know what? I do expect that we should get healthcare for free. I do believe the ability to stay alive is the most basic of our rights as people, and, no, we shouldn't have to pay for it.
And if that opinion makes me a stereotypical millennial, then I'm happy to be one.