Evelyn Garcia is the only one of six siblings who has allergies. She is allergic to apples, walnuts, peaches and smoked turkey.
Her reactions are varied. Sometimes she gets hives all over her body. Other times she suffers from vomiting or diarrhea. She recently had an allergic reaction so bad that she fainted twice.
With the provision of health care reform that allows young adults up to age 26 to remain covered under their parents’ health insurance policy, Evelyn has been able to finish college while working two part-time jobs to cover basic expenses.
Since September 2010, some 250,000 young adults have been able to remain covered under their parents’ policies, according to the nonprofit organization Children Now.
“I’ve been very lucky to have health insurance my whole life. For almost 26 years, my mom’s insurance has covered the health problems I’ve had,” said Evelyn, who was interviewed a few days before her 26th birthday.
The last allergic reaction she had was in mid-January when she and her boyfriend went to the Staples Center to watch a Lakers game. She ate a caramel apple that they were selling at halftime and felt fine. For a moment she thought her mother might be right — her mother had told her that her allergy to apples is psychological, since she can drink apple juice without any problems.
“When I left the Staples Center, my stomach started hurting. A couple of blocks later, I told my boyfriend I had to go to the bathroom immediately. I felt like I had diarrhea and that if I didn’t go to the bathroom right then, I was going to go in the car,” said Evelyn.
She ran into a restaurant to use their bathroom. Although she reached the toilet in time, she started vomiting and then passed out. She fainted on the bathroom floor, hit her head and lost consciousness for a moment. She doesn’t remember how long she was unconscious. She woke up and yelled for help, but nobody came to help her. When she could finally get up again, the vomiting and diarrhea came back.
“The pain in my stomach was so bad I thought I was going to die, I thought my baby was going to die,” said Evelyn, who is 10 weeks pregnant. “I thought I was having a miscarriage and that no one was around to help me. It was horrible,” Evelyn recalls.
After two more episodes of diarrhea and vomiting, Evelyn left the bathroom and met her boyfriend who was waiting outside. When she saw him she fainted again.
Her boyfriend immediately called 911. Paramedics arrived within minutes, and she woke up with stomach pain so severe she was writhing in pain.
It was almost 10 pm when she arrived at Good Samarithan Hospital, located a couple miles west of downtown Los Angeles.
“They took me to the nearest hospital, and did a few tests, including an ultrasound to check on the baby, and kept me there overnight for observation. I think they let me leave at 8 am the next day,” she said.
That night Evelyn did not have her health insurance card with her. A few days later the hospital bill arrived. The bill was for $9,800.
“My mom says health insurance will cover it and you have to send them the bill so they can get in touch with the hospital. If I didn’t have health insurance I don’t know what I would do. How do I pay almost $10,000 for a night in the hospital?” she asks.
Normally she only pays a $25 co-pay when she visits her doctor and about $100 in an emergency.
“This provision is an important benefit for young people. Generally this demographic is healthy and uses health insurance to cover preventive services or once in a while a catastrophe like an accident,” said Kelly Hardy, health policy director at Children Now.
With part-time jobs as a school assistant and a cashier at Big 5, Evelyn can’t buy her own insurance.
“With my allergies I never know what will happen. I’m not allergic to turkey, but I’m allergic to smoked turkey. I can drink apple juice, but I can’t eat apples. It’s really weird,” she added.
She earned her BA in liberal arts from California State University Northridge and is getting ready to get her teaching credentials. Evelyn thinks it will take another year to finish her studies so she can get a good job that offers health insurance.
More than 3.1 million young people in the United States have health insurance now, thanks in part to a provision of the health reform law that allows them to remain covered under their parents’ health insurance.
Data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows that 2.5 million young adults between 19 and 25 years of age have health insurance thanks to this provision. Before this mandate took effect in September 2010, young people had to prove they were in college or that they had lost their job in order to qualify.
This story was made possible with a fellowship from New America Media and was funded by The California Endowment.