Hampton Roads millennials watch health care debate closely

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Local millennials watch health care debate closely

With a husband in the military, Leah Allen never had to worry about health insurance.

But after the couple filed for divorce earlier this year, Allen started looking at health care plans, trying to find one that will keep her monthly prescriptions in her price range.

Allen, 28, just began a new part-time job, and says paying for health insurance is one of her biggest concerns.

"I have medications that I have to take every day," the Newport News resident said. "Without insurance, they're so much more expensive."

Healthy young people signing up for health care under state marketplaces could boost insurance exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act, national advocates say. But they don't.

Local people in the coveted demographic, adults from age 18 to early 30s, say they want health care they can afford and plans that cover their health needs. Millennials are the largest living generation, with many entering their 30s while a debate on what kind of health care people should have, can afford and will pay for goes on in Congress and around the country.

Michael Cross has insurance through the state's marketplace. His plan there is cheaper than the one offered by the plant maintenance company where he works, he said. The Senate's attempts to change the ACA, known as "Obamacare," make him worry about being able to keep his health insurance plan.

"What if they make changes that drive the premiums way up?" the 28-year-old said. With plans to go back to college in the fall, Cross said he hopes any bill to replace the ACA will lower premiums, not make insurance too expensive for working people like him.

The GOP-led Senate released details on its ACA replacement, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act last week. A vote on the bill was scheduled, then quickly postponed when it became clear it wouldn't pass. As of the weekend, it remained a work in progress.

The bill in its current form would reduce premiums for some, but many would see their premiums increase by double digits, the Kaiser Family Foundation found in its analysis of the bill. The Congressional Budget Office said the Senate plan would cut the deficit but would leave 22 million uninsured.

Ken Venable of Hampton said the Senate bill appears to price many people out of the insurance market. "For people who aren't fortunate enough to have employer-based health care, insurance could be so expensive that they can never use it. There needs to be a system in place to take care of them, help them get care."

Venable is in the Coast Guard, so he and his family are covered by TRICARE. The 23-year-old and his wife have an infant son. He works out and is in good health but says he's willing to purchase health insurance to make sure someone else can also get health care.

Insurers in state marketplaces set up under the ACA have complained that younger, healthier people like Venable don't enroll in health care enough to help cover costs of care for more expensive people, like their grandparents. The ACA imposed a penalty for people without insurance, but the Senate replacement would eliminate those penalties. People with pre-existing conditions and those requiring more expensive medical care would be placed in high-risk insurance pools, which are more expensive.

Newport News resident Sonny Cruz doesn't follow politics closely but does not feel the poorest or sickest people should not be insured.

"It should be a right to have health care," said Cruz, 33.

Frank Carro and his girlfriend, Laken Buckingham, both said health care should be provided for those who can't afford it and made available at a reasonable rate for those who can. The couple was in Hampton on a recent afternoon walking in Peninsula Town Center.

"It's crazy how expensive health care is, and I think the government has a responsibility to do something about it," Carro said. Still in college, the 20-year-old is still on his parents' health insurance, a popular feature of the ACA that would be preserved in the Senate's bill.

Buckingham worries her mother's pre-existing conditions could put her in an expensive high-risk pool or mean she couldn't afford health insurance at all.

Sam McMillian is only 19, but he's worried about how he'll pay for health care when he ages out of being covered by his parents' plan after college.

"The Senate bill basically makes health care a privilege for those who can afford it. It also punishes people who've had bad health and makes them pay more. I don't think this is a good bill for Americans." the Poquoson resident said.

Canty can be reached by phone at 757-247-4832.

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