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What some Harvard students might not know is this is the first time some of their peers have experienced medical relief in the form of health insurance.
Thankfully, I was very healthy during my adolescence and young adulthood. I rarely fell ill, was only hospitalized once (for a possible case of rabies from an animal bite… sorry, neighborhood dog), and never broke a bone.
Although, when I was sick in my younger years, I do recall a deep sense of dread. I dreaded missing school; I dreaded lying listlessly in bed; I dreaded going to the doctor; I dreaded the final medical bill we would receive later in the mail; I dreaded the subsequent tradeoff between buying groceries or paying the bill, or paying for rent or paying the bill, or affording wifi or paying the bill. This feeling of dread was multifaceted and weighed deeply on my openness to admit sickness.
While nearly 33 percent of individuals who avoid medical care do so to avoid physicians and health care organizations, 58 percent of individuals who avoid medical treatment do so because of high costs, a lack of health insurance, and/or a lack of time. Those working part-time or in low-paying jobs are more likely to be uninsured or to have worse insurance benefits. They are more likely to be strained for time due to less flexibility in the workplace. For immigrant families, an additional challenge comes in the form of a language barrier. All of these factors play against low-income individuals’ ability to receive the care they need, undermining their potential for wellbeing.
My dread also stemmed from a lack of awareness: I was unaware of what hospitals, doctors, and health insurance actually entailed. All I knew was that they were expensive and thus to be avoided. I was accustomed to riding a cold out and only in the most severe cases going to see a doctor. Now I won’t crumble due to a simple cough or stuffy nose. But this also taught me that attending classes in high school with a 101 degrees fever was O.K. It taught me to devalue help and my wellbeing, when both were probably in dire need of appreciation.
Since coming to college, my health problems have been persistent. In the spring, I was hospitalized for pericarditis. The following summer, I was hospitalized for appendicitis. More recently, I endured the college sickness making its way around campus.
I came out with a total of nearly $24,313 in medical bills, all of which were covered by Harvard Student Health Insurance, for which I am extremely grateful.
Being able to receive healthcare without fear of cost or accessibility has been a transformative part of my education. For the first time in my life, I no longer fear going to Harvard University Health Services or to the hospital in the event of poor health. However, we live in a faux environment.
In the summer of 2021, between my two hospitalizations, I fell off of a skateboard going down a steep incline. Skin hit pavement and, next thing I knew, I had severe road rash all the way up and down my body. After doing at-home triage with alcohol wipes and bandage wraps, I was feeling comfortable. I eventually went to a CVS minute-clinic to simply confirm that there was no infection developing. After spending less than 10 minutes inside, I received the half-hearted advice that they similarly thought it wasn’t infected. Even with my mother’s insurance, I left CVS with a staggering $220 bill and $30 medication. Granted, at the time, I did not think that my Harvard coverage could extend to out-of-state expenses. Had I known that it did possibly cover part of those expenses, I would have used it.
The ultimate insight is that Harvard has created an artificial landscape for its first-generation, low-income students. I am thankful that Harvard’s insurance covers so much, but when I graduate or return home or watch my family fall ill, it is disheartening to return to at-home remedies for more severe health conditions.
I should not feel shame in wanting to verify the state of my health. For a while, I grappled with whether or not it was actually worth it — the cost of the bill and the resulting clarity from determining if I was well. But I now realize that these are considerations many of my classmates have never given a second thought. For many, consistent access to health care has always been taken for granted.
My health deserves to be a priority, not a privilege. When the medical bill is the same price as an airline ticket back to college, something is clearly off. No one should be priced out of their healthcare nor should they be forced to choose between necessities.
For low-income students on campus, a medical bill of even $100 can throw a family for a loop. It displaces the minimal resources low-income families have. Harvard’s insurance has ultimately assuaged my dread for the time being, but it has not tempered my worry about what will happen when student health insurance is no longer an option.
Jordan R. Robbins, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Leverett House. His column “What Some Harvard Students Don't Know …” appears on alternate Thursdays.
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