Your new editor endures the trials of health insurance

I'm thrilled to be FierceHealthcare's newest Editor. Although I must admit: The thrill of this new job, including my shiny desk and the smell of a new reporter's notebook, was somewhat hampered by the stress of figuring out the little thing called my health insurance plan.

Along with getting to know my coworkers and FierceHealthcare readers was a pressing concern about health insurance. Between my previous job and this one, I could choose to go without medical insurance for several weeks or enroll in COBRA for the mere price of a grand. It's no small price tag.

My choices were: (1) pay it instead of putting it toward student loans, my rent or even my emergency fund, or (2) forgo COBRA, roll the die, and cross my fingers I don't break my leg in the coming weeks. Saving $1,000 sounded like a good idea except for the vulnerability factor, in which I hesitated to engage in any activity; bike riding would have to go on hold, and rock climbing would be out of the question. Years of healthcare reporting and horror stories from friends taught me that medical insurance is a no-brainer, an ultimate necessary. I chose COBRA.

While I'm lucky enough to have the continuing insurance option this time, that wasn't always the case. After college (and before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), I went months without health insurance and prayed daily that my body wouldn't be as broke as my wallet--an all too-familiar struggle for many Americans.

Although the Affordable Care Act, enacted last year, has allowed 600,000 young adults to receive care under their parents' insurance, many still report they cannot pay for care when needed. Half of young adults still can't afford healthcare at all, according to the Commonwealth Fund's report released last week. Forty-five percent of Americans age 19-29 cannot afford medical care, including filling prescriptions, visiting a doctor, or participating in tests, treatments or follow-up visits.

Those tides are turning though. With initiatives yet to be implemented, more patients will be insured from now until 2014: removals of coverage caps for college healthcare plans, expanded maternity benefits for low- and moderate-income patients, and expanded Medicaid coverage for 15 million (otherwise uninsured) young adults in this age bracket, according to the health policy research group.

But what does more insured patients mean for healthcare organizations? Had I chose not to elect insurance this time, I would be one less person straining the system, at least for now. Eventually, my lack of preventive care today would probably mean more medical care down the road. Industry experts, just as they did in 2010 when the Affordable Care Act was instituted, foresee repercussions of an explosion of newly insured patients looking for care in a system with an already limited physician workforce. Healthcare organizations must find a balance between providing care and maintaining operations today in order to care for larger pools of the insured in the long-term.

I'd love to hear from you about what topics you like to read about (and if you think I made the right choice to elect into COBRA). Email me or comment below with your ideas and feedback. I look forward to continuing to bring you more news and executive best practices at FierceHealthcare. - Karen