Apocalypse Now: The Affordable Care Act and You

by Jason Naughton

If you’ve been living under a rock these past few weeks that’s probably because your house has been repossessed by a herd of wildebeests in the backlash of the government shutdown, and you have been forced to live amongst the cave people. Yet even then you have come to know the horror— the terror!—that is the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

If alarmist rhetoric is to be trusted, “Obamacare” falls somewhere between an economic rectal exam—unpleasant but wholly well-intentioned—and Hitler’s Third Reich. Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) called Obamacare “one of the most insidious laws ever created by man.” Likewise, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), warned that the Affordable Care Act—or “DeathCare,” as she would prefer—will turn the country into a “police state.” Fox news contributor and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson furthered this sentiment in calling Obamacare “[the] worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” And finally, Rep. Brenda Barton (R-AZ) reminded the nation to “read your history. Germany started with national health care...before [the Holocaust].”

Now this bumbling atrocity is drooling down our necks, and after a brinksmanship backfire within Congress, Tea Party conservatives—our final hope for salvation—have abandoned their post.

So what is this nightmare that is at our doorstep? What is this hell-born Nazi socialist plague that seeks to loot our apple pie and pillage our Fonzies? And what does this fire and brimstone mean to you as a student? In short: probably nothing.

Yes, it’s true, between the volcanic pterodactyls that patrol our skies, and the demonic hound-beast that scours the streets at night, it may be inconvenient to get to class. However, you might find the brute’s bark worse than his bite.

Opponents of the bill will tell you that you must get health insurance by January 1, 2014, or you will be forced to pay an egregious ($95) fine. This is not completely true. This “individual mandate” clause only applies to people who earn enough to file income taxes, or $9,700 a year. Although many students dream about this “dilemma,” it is likely not applicable.

Others will tell you that you will be forced to drop your existing health care plan and enroll in this socialist coverage. Again, this is simply not true. Students are more than welcome to shop for health care on the open market, or to retain their prior health care benefits. Likewise, the University of Pittsburgh’s healthcare plan is still a viable option, as is your existing private insurance plan, assuming it complies with the minimum coverage requirements of the ACA.

In fact, a provision of the ACA demands that insurance companies allow students to be insured within their parents’ healthcare plan until they are 26 years old. This will likely save a substantial majority from finding their own health care until they have a steady job, as compared to finding cheap premiums immediately upon graduation. This provision applies even if the student is married, not living with or financially dependent on his/her parents, eligible to enroll in his/her employer’s plan, or all of the above.

Even so, students may not want their parents’ plan. This is the case for many students who study away from their parents’ work place—say, if the parents work in Philadelphia and the student attends the University of Pittsburgh—in which case much of the insurance network is removed from their vicinity. Well, assuming you can log on to the site, there are a number of low-cost governmental healthcare options available to students. In fact, The Department of Health and Human Services released a report in October stating that “46 percent of uninsured young adults in single-person households may be able to purchase a bronze plan for $50 per month or less after tax credits.” Students in certain unfortunate economic situations may even qualify for the expanded Medicaid benefits, which would affordably cover a number of common health discrepancies. However, as the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has denied Medicaid expansion under the provisions of the recent Supreme Court ruling on the ACA, these students would not likely be wearing Panther blue.

Let’s just say that all else has failed: your parents are not covered, your former private insurance does not meet the minimum care requirements, your state has denied expanded Medicaid benefits, your university’s premiums are too high, and you make over $10,000 a year—none of which you would like to pay towards health care. Even then the “catastrophic” health plan is available to most applicants under 30. This plan has a substantially lower premium, but requires you to pay all your medical costs up to a certain amount (usually several thousand dollars) out of pocket, leaving the insurance company responsible for essential health benefits over that amount. For the most part, rather than spend your well-earned money on something as frivolous as health insurance, you may instead address the medical billings directly, just as you had before this evil plagued the nation, only now with an insurance safeguard against egregious medical charges.

There is some hyperbolic postulation that the negative economic effects of the ACA will trickle down to students. Pundits banter over whether your parents will lose their coverage and work hours to account for the measures on businesses to insure all full-time workers. Others theorize that insurance companies will somehow begin to offer higher premiums to combat the low rates offered by the government, in some kind of funhouse mirror economic system. Still others say that your college degree will be useless anyway, as you will be graduating into a nuclear garbage wasteland perpetuated by this catastrophic bill, the likes of which may only be traversed by Kurt Russell’s ‘80s mullet. However, assuming you can battle past the hordes of howler monkeys that stalk the charred remnants of what used to be our hospitals, you may be left with naught but a sticker, a lollipop and a smiling nurse glancing up from her charts asking:

“That wasn’t so bad, now, was it?”