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Young and uninsured in Manhattan

My friend forwarded an article to me from New York Magazine. It is about the fact that many of the “20-somethings” in Manhattan choose not to buy health insurance. They reason that nothing really bad is likely to happen to them, so why pay the $167-300/month in health insurance?

Here are some of the strategies that these young uninsured use to stay out of harm’s way:

  • “I carry an expired Blue Cross card in my wallet. You never know, maybe they’ll think I have insurance and I’ll get better care.”
  • Rebekah takes vitamin C and echinacea.
  • “I do yoga to stay loose. I drink a lot of water so I don’t get sick, and vitamins.”

Ironically, Echinacea is actually a cousin of rag weed, and can create a cross-reactivity that may cause cold-like symptoms (leading the user to believe that she averted a more severe cold by taking the supplement). Vitamins are unregulated, and previous studies have shown that up to 50% of bottles do not contain the actual levels of vitamins and minerals displayed on their labels. Dangerously high lead levels have been found in popular multi-vitamins as well. Of course, there was a recent bottled water scare – with a certain brand found to contain high levels of arsenic. Yoga can be harmful to those who push themselves too hard, and to my knowledge there is no convincing evidence that high levels of vitamin C can retard viral illnesses.

Why don’t the young adults buy health insurance? Here’s what one young man said:

“What’s ironic is that I would never live without my cell phone, but I won’t consider buying health insurance. It sounds ridiculous to say that out loud, but the fact is insurance is just too expensive. If it was the same price as my phone”—$150 a month sounded reasonable to him—“I’d buy it in a second.”

The article goes on to describe a nightmare case of an uninsured young man who developed appendicitis. He ended up requiring surgery, and a prolonged hospital stay due to infection. His total bill was $37,000.00. He explained to the hospital that he couldn’t afford to pay, he discovered that he made too much money to qualify for Medicaid, so he sent them a nasty letter, threatening to sue them for malpractice. The hospital reduced the charges to $1,700.00.

A year later when asked if he now carried insurance, here is what the man said:

“Oh, no, I still don’t have any insurance,” he said, rolling his eyes to indicate that, yes, he knows how it sounds. “I think about it, but it’s not like I have a consistent income right now. I think about paying $300 a month on top of my other expenses, and it’s like, God, when’s it going to end?” He paused. “But, really, it’s more than that. I was just so disillusioned with the process. I wanted nothing to do with it, you know? And maybe because, in the end, I kind of managed to get away with it, I end up thinking …” He trailed off, not finishing the thought, but the sentiment was clear: He is still young, he runs, he does yoga, he takes all the vitamins. And it’s not like you can get appendicitis twice.


New York hospitals alone provide $1.8 billion in uncompensated care annually.


Are you sympathetic to the uninsured’s plight, or do you feel annoyed by their attitude?This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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2 Responses to “Young and uninsured in Manhattan”

  1. Lauren says:

    Doctors unions (medical associations) and the insurance companies both conspire to raise prices for consumers on health care. Our current malpractice system is also partly to blame. These three competing forces are able to consistently get laws passed in their favor, while the consumer’s interests go unrepresented.

    Very interesting blog, Val, thanks!

  2. JillSklar says:

    I totally believe in personal responsibility when it comes to health care. Until there is universal health care, it is your responsibility to make sure you either are insured or are covered under a government program. Waiting until something bad happens and finding out that you aren’t covered is immature and a burden to the rest of society, which then has to pick up the tab.

    And that is why I fork over a very painful $17,000 a year for PPO coverage. Sure, it’s expensive but so is getting hit with a huge bill for surgery or paying out of pocket for my prescriptions. Being prepared is a part of being a responsible adult citizen.

    I think that guy who bargained down his b

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