RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

So that's how the experience of one state may influence the national debate. Now we'll hear how the health care debate reflects the experience of millions of individuals.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Democrats in the House want to change the rules for young adults. It would let you stay on your parent's health plan even after you grow up and move away. You could keep the coverage until you're 27.

MONTAGNE: That plan is aimed at young adults who are among the least likely to get insurance. To understand the choices that they face now, consider the experience of Molly Adams of Youth Radio.

MOLLY ADAMS: So what do you do, is a question people ask a lot when you're fresh out of college. Basically, 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 none of these jobs come 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 even 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 coworkers 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 that 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, and 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.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Molly Adams lives in Chicago. Her essay was produced by Youth Radio. You can comment on it on our Opinion Page at npr.org.

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