When I was a kid my mother would often tell me, "You know, you don't have anything if you don't have your health." And my response would be, "Yeah, ok, Mom…whatever." Why would I, a young girl full of energy, ever think about a day when I wouldn't be in good health? My horizon was bright and I believed that nothing – especially my health – would keep me from achieving my dreams.
Once I graduated from college however, I realized the flaw in my thinking. It wasn't so much how I viewed my own health, but the lack of appreciation I had for the safeguard that supported me all along – my parent's' health insurance.
My first job out of college was with a nonprofit organization in Baltimore that offered amazing healthcare benefits. But like most young adults who take leaps into pools without water, I soon grew tired of "working" and decided that I would move back home to figure out my next steps. Unfortunately, there was one major thing I failed to calculate with my move back to Cleveland: I couldn't pack up my health insurance and take it with me!
This was in 2005, five years before the Affordable Care Act allowed children to stay on their parents' health insurance through their 26th birthday. As an unemployed 24 year old, I suddenly realized that I didn't have the safety net I unknowingly relied on all my life. Even when I landed a job at a temp agency, it didn't provide health coverage, let alone a salary that would allow me to purchase my own insurance.
Now, eight years and a number of jobs later, I run my own consulting company in DC and a leadership organization for young black women called
Brown Girls Lead . I'm finally conquering the goals that I laid out for myself – especially living a life as an entrepreneur with the ability to chart my course on a daily basis. But taking creative risks has come with its own set of challenges. At times I have lived without insurance, and I always knew that a random fall or a sudden illness could set me back – especially financially.
With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, young people who want to live life to its fullest are able to do so without the fear of getting sick and not being able to afford a visit to the doctor. Thanks to the ACA, 97,000 young people in my home state of Ohio gained health insurance. In addition, more than 500,000 African Americans between the ages of 19 and 25 will now have coverage under their parents' employer-sponsored plan or if they individually purchase a health plan. They are now free to explore different kinds of work, take creative risks and follow their dreams with the knowledge that they'll have a health care safety net beneath them.
So whether you're a young adult at a start-up company or a baby boomer ready to start a second career as an entrepreneur, take comfort in knowing that the Affordable Care Act is there to care for you.
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Stefanie Brown James is the Founding Partner and CEO of Vestige Strategies, LLC – a community and civic engagement consulting firm in Washington, DC. She’s also the Founder and Executive Director of Brown Girls Lead, a leadership development organization focused on building a strong pipeline of collegiate, black women leaders dedicated to creating positive changes in the community.