AUSTIN, Texas -- When it's a decision between buying groceries or
health insurance each month, the choice is clear.
Jennifer Tapia, 24, prefers to eat.
Tapia, who works part time at H.E.B. grocery store, says her job
does not provide health insurance, and individual coverage for her
could cost as much as $200 a month -- more than she can afford.
It's a common story for young adults.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in three adults between
18 and 24 went without health insurance during 1995, more than
the rate of other age groups. Between 1992 and 1994, more than half
of all 18-to-24-year-olds went without health insurance for at least
Young adults often are left out of the debate about health
insurance reform because they tend to be healthy and need less care.
But young adults are not immune to car accidents or other mishaps,
and for the uninsured, injuries, even minor ones, can bring severe
For Tapia, going without health insurance seemed a reasonable risk
-- until she got hurt. A relatively minor injury cost her $1,000.
Two years ago, before moving to Austin from San Antonio, she put
her hand through a glass window, a "dumb mistake" she says that led
to a trip to the emergency room and 43 stitches. The ambulance ride
alone was $200.
"The costs are just unreal," she said. "And you have no idea it's
going to be so much until you get that first bill. Just for drawing
blood, it's $44."
Going without insurance cost Jesse Saldivar, 23, more than $800.
Saldivar is a nurse's aide at a nursing home that does not offer
health insurance. Lifting patients from their beds at a previous job
has given him a recurring back injury and a backlog of medical
At more than $100 per visit, treatment has become too expensive,
and he has stopped seeing doctors or chiropractors, although his
persists. He and his wife, Michelle Johnston, 18, are paying off his
medical bills little by little each month.
Johnston works part-time at Randalls and plans to start attending
classes at Austin Community College. She doesn't have access to
health insurance, either, and said she worries about getting sick or
having an accident.
"Already we've got bills to pay," she said. "What would we do if
something else happened? How would we ever pay for it?"
Arlene Spurlock, 24, who lives in Leander with her husband, has
not had health insurance since she was 18 and covered under her
parents' plan. Since then, she's worked jobs at temp agencies and
various retail stores that did not provide health insurance.
Spurlock has recently finished paying off a $2,000 hospital bill
she incurred a year and a half ago when she was rushed to the
emergency room for alcohol poisoning. While she spent just six hours
in the hospital, the bills followed her for more than a year.
"There were doctors' bills, hospital bills, urinalysis bills, they
just never stopped," Spurlock said. "I had to call the billing
departments and tell them I couldn't pay at once, that I could only
pay what I could afford, which wasn't much. I'd pay off one bill one
month, and another the next. It took about 10 months before I paid
Spurlock said she looked into getting a private health insurance
policy, but gave up her search when she found out full-coverage,
including dental visits, could cost her up to $500 a month, more
Spurlock is currently unemployed, but does not qualify for
Medicaid insurance, which is available to some low-income families,
because her husband works full time and she has a savings account
worth $1,000. She can't get insurance through her husband's job
either. Coverage options are limited for young adults who don't
have access to health insurance through an employer. Full-time
students often are covered under their parents' plan or through
school. The University of Texas, for example, offers student health
insurance starting at $174 for the spring semester. …