Young Invincibles and Enroll America hosted dozens of events leading up to National Youth Enrollment Day.

Like many African-American college graduates living in the District, Keysa Towns has experienced the highs and lows of living outside of a dependency on her parents. Aside from escalating living costs – her Northwest apartment building was sold and subsequent leasing expenses almost tripled –Towns’ non-profit employer eliminated health insurance from its listed benefits.

That decision placed Towns among the millions of American millennials – roughly 1 in 5 between the ages of 18 and 34 – without health insurance. Despite understanding the need for health care insurance, many African-American millennials believe they cannot afford the cost.

“I have been in pretty good health, but understand that some health conditions that surface in a person’s forties, take root in their twenties. I want to be proactive about my health, but have found it easier to take advantage of free mobile health units, or the new clinics inside CVS stores,” Towns said.

Towns is correct in noting that young African Americans suffer disproportionately from poor health outcomes including chronic illnesses and the lack of health insurance contributes greatly to these health disparities. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy said, in a conference call panel for the Jan. 29 National Youth Enrollment Day, that while patients ages 18 to 34 are typically healthy, they tend to fall ill when they least expect it.

“As someone who has cared for patients in the hospital, conducted research in the laboratory, and built public health programs in the community, I can help forge partnerships between these worlds and build bridges between young and older generations to address the biggest health care challenges that face our nation. That’s why coverage is so important for millennials,” Murthy said.

In 2011, roughly 30 percent of African Americans age 19 to 25 visited an emergency room, at astronomical costs to them and supporting the alarming use of emergency rooms as the site of primary health consultation. Through ER visits, millennials are receiving diagnoses for preventable conditions as they reach chronic stages. In addition to complicating treatment, late diagnoses through emergency room visits are expensive.

Landing headfirst and helmet-less into a parked vehicle when falling from his bicycle was Jerome Pettigrew’s wake-up call for purchasing health insurance. While the accident left him dazed but otherwise in good health, the emergency room bill created financial problems far beyond his imagination.

“The ambulance bill was more than a thousand dollars and the intake process – checking my blood pressure and temperature – was more than $400. Then there were bills for x-rays and monitoring my heart overnight, plus a one-night stay in the hospital. When combined the accident bill was more than $30,000.” Pettigrew said. “That was more than my entire college tuition for four years.”

A stock person for a local department store, Pettigrew said he was ineligible for insurance through his employer because of the limited number of hours he worked. The accident, however, put things into perspective for him. “I was happy living with the bare necessities – three roommates, a bike instead of a car, and just enough hours of work to pay student loans and eat. I understand now that health insurance is a necessity like food because without it, you really are screwed,” Pettigrew said.

Young Invincibles and Enroll America hosted dozens of events leading up to National Youth Enrollment Day, including a Howard County enrollment fair and panel with the Howard County African-American Community Roundtable.

The community roundtable will host a second health care and health insurance literacy seminar on Feb. 10. For more information, visit their website at

The last day of Open Enrollment is Feb. 15.