"So what do you do?" is a question people ask a lot when you're fresh out of college. I'm a freelancer, doing all kinds of broadcast production jobs. But that doesn't cover my rent, so I'm also a bartender. And neither of these jobs comes with health insurance.
A few weeks ago, before I was dropped from my parents' plan, I had an eye exam and a physical. It was like a last meal. I asked way more questions than I ever did before. I've started flossing my teeth every day, something I never did when I knew I could go to a dentist if I had a problem.
My mom told me she studied some COBRA information and that I could get a plan for around $300.
Here's the thing: $300 a month is pretty much everything I make that does not go into rent, my school loan payments, transportation, utilities and food. It's the only extra money I have. If I pay for health care, I would literally have no other money. I couldn't save. I couldn't buy winter boots. I couldn't buy anything.
I have co-workers at the restaurant where I work who have never been able to put more than $2,000 into their checking accounts — and it's not just the artists. I know many people who are waiting tables or tending bar while they work two unpaid internships to earn a place in a company. That's why a lot of us are just not that into health care — it doesn't make a lot of financial sense.
It's a priority for my parents because they need it: They're in their 50s. Colonoscopies, mammograms — all that gross stuff. I have other things to think about. Plus, dwelling on the fact I can't afford health care is stressful, and we know stress leads to health problems — so forget it.
For now, I'm lucky. I don't have chronic health issues. My safety net is having financially secure family members who could take care of me.
But I do worry about a catastrophic event. I ride my bike a lot in a city filled with bad drivers. I worry about getting into an accident. And when I think about not being covered, and maybe having to spend $20,000 on a broken leg, I admit I get bitter. Why is it that I'm working 40 hours a week, contributing to society, and yet I still don't have health insurance? Aren't I earning it?
Maybe someday I will get hired full-time and score a benefits package in spite of the conditions that so many recent graduates are dealing with: a crappy job market and no health care. Until then, I have to decide between every extra purchase and health coverage. And right now, it really doesn't feel like a difficult decision.
Molly Adams lives in Chicago. Her essay was produced by Youth Radio as part of their series Generation Invincible.