Think You’re Young and Invincible? You’re Young, Yes. Invincible? Maybe Not.

Life was getting underway the day I found a suspicious lump. My first book had just been published and was being received well in my field. I was traveling and speaking about a new research project. The phone kept ringing and there was little time to think.

I figured that was the reason why my weight was falling. It was one of those good side benefits of a busy schedule. Why worry about a pea-sized lump? Lots of women have those and they turn out to be nothing. Coincidentally, that was exactly what my gynecologist said it was: nothing but a cyst.

Two more visits to that doctor resulted in him telling me that, at my age and with my family history, there was nothing to worry about and I should get on with life. He refused my request for a mammogram, suggesting that I should relax. I gave relaxation a try until a friend told me, “You look bad. If you don’t go see your GP for another opinion, I’m not going to talk to you.” There were dark lines under my eyes and I was becoming tired and downright skinny. I took her advice. It was cancer.

When I read about young people declining to sign up for health insurance, I remember back to that time. Sure, it’s great to be young. One of the best things is thinking you have a long time before you need to worry about your body giving you major problems. And isn’t life a gamble anyway?

I’m sure many young people reason this way and to some extent they’re right. Having spent a significant part of my career studying how people reason about health, it’s no surprise to me that weighing the odds causes a good many of us to take risks.

Yet, there is no such thing as a “young invincible,” the term currently bandied about to describe adults under the age of 35.

It’s not their fault if the system is unresponsive when they attempt to learn their insurance options. But it is their responsibility, to themselves and their families, to make sure that if something does go wrong — as it often does — their insurance will afford them the care that could save their lives.

Most of us, young or not, do what we can do more than what we should do when it comes to health care. We know we should have several servings of fruit and vegetables each day, exercise, get enough sleep and keep the stress down. To the extent any of these can be done fairly easily, people are more inclined to do them. Right now what young people should do — sign up for health insurance — is being further hindered by what they can’t do: get it done when they first try.

It boggles the mind that a team of top computer geniuses wasn’t assembled, and now hasn’t been found, that could avoid endless online delays in obtaining health insurance. This provides a handy excuse for young people putting health insurance in the “should do” category because it isn’t at the moment what most “can do.”

Nevertheless, if you are young, old or somewhere in-between, life is full of sharp curves. My father used to say, “If you have your health, you can do anything.” He was right. When you don’t have it anymore, you want to be very sure that whoever can help you get back on track is not beyond your financial grasp. Mental, physical or emotional health problems are only a happenstance away.

Rather than continuing to tell young people that they’re needed to make the Affordable Care Act work, why not start telling them that their health matters, that denial has never been a cure, that there are lots of risks they’ll take in their youth but not having health insurance is a risk that affects everyone who loves you and every dream you have.

Kathleen Reardon, PhD has held a joint position on the preventive medicine faculty at the University of Southern California, is the author of the debut novel Shadow Campus and blogs regularly on her own personal website. This post originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

4 replies »

  1. I have to remind myself this all the time and it’s not something that is easy to do. This was an eye opening post, and I just have to say thank you for friends that are willing to tell us the things that might be hard to hear when they know that it’s the right thing to do. Was also very surprised to hear that your doctor refused your request for a mammogram considering the circumstances.

  2. The challenge is that the very nature of being young is that one feels invincible and this is largely true. The vast majority will not have bad car accidents or illnesses and more to the point most never think about it.

    Add to this the economy is tight in general, but particularly for younger people. Many are unemployed or partially employed. Those that are fully employed by in large do not make a lot of money.

    Many on the higher end of the spectrum with college degrees are drowning under student loan debt and the recent rate bump from Sallie Mae isn’t helping.


    So after a young person meets all their monthly fixed costs, assuming they have a lot of disposable income left, where are they going to spend it? I doubt health insurance is at the top of their list. And let’ be honest – they will get treated at the ER anyway and have not much in the way of assets to seize for non-payment.

    Marketing ACA to young adults and expecting huge enrollment is like marketing Xboxes to all the 90 year olds in the country and expecting a lot of sales. Ain’t gonna happen.

  3. You’ re right that the ‘young invincible’ should be told that they need coverage for this sort of thing (my college roommate was diagnosed with testicular cancer, so I do know the young aren’t quite as invincible as they might think), but that’s not the same as telling them they need to sign up for what passes for health insurance these days under the Affordable Care Act. There are other options that can work just as well, such as membership in a health sharing ministry or critical illness insurance.

    The problem isn’t that the marketing pitch to the young is wrong, it’s that what they’re being allowed to buy under the ACA just isn’t a very good value. Provide a product that has value, and you make some form of insurance or insurance-like coverage much more attractive.