I am creating this beginner’s resource guide because I have recognized a growing need for underserved communities, and young adults specifically, to have access to healthcare resources. This is a very limited survey of information, but I felt the need to record a basic health advocacy guideline as a starting point for young people who may not be familiar with this topic. I am still learning myself, but feel free to do your own research to fit your particular needs. Remember that information recorded here may change based on federal and state-level policies.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical or insurance professional. I am a community development specialist who believes that healthcare is a human right.
Table of Contents
On Health Insurance
Finding a Doctor
A Note on Cultural Relevance
On Being Prepared for Your Appointment
Alcohol, Drugs, and Cigarettes
Physical Health & Wellness
Mental Health & Wellness
On Health Insurance
If you are confused about health insurance and why it is important, check out this cartoon that explains common terms.
Employment Health Insurance
- Health insurance programs through employment can help to cover the cost of medical care.
- Ask about health insurance at every job interview to make sure you have the right to be employed and on medical care.-
- Think about the benefits as a part of your decision-making process for every job application process.
If you are under 26 years old, you can be covered under your parent’s insurance plan. If your parent is insured, you can reach out to them, ask if you are covered, and learn about the benefits of your plan together.
Once you turn 26 years old, you can apply for a Special Enrollment Period health insurance if you cannot have it through your employment. Open Enrollment Period is the designated time when people can sign up for a plan. It is normally between November and December. If you miss this deadline, you can try to utilize a short term health plan or a Special Enrollment period, even if you are older than 26.
If this is not an option for you financially, then you can apply for Medicaid. Medicare and Medicaid are often confused with one another, even though they are very different. Medicaid is a state and federal program that provides health coverage if you have a very low income Contact your state’s Medicaid agency to find out if you are qualified for these benefits. Each state has different standards for who will qualify for the Medicaid program. There are online resources that suggest who can qualify and who cannot based on income level and household size. However, it might help to contact a Medicaid representative and explain your personal circumstances, even if you fall outside of the technical eligibility requirements. Medicaid representatives can help to let you know if you should apply or if there are other programs available that can fit your needs.
Medicare is a federal program that provides health coverage if you are 65+ or under 65 and have a disability, no matter your income.
If there is no way that you can find health insurance for this moment, you should check out a local community health center. A local community health center has a sliding scale based on your income level. A sliding scale means that they will assess how much you pay for an appointment based on your income level. This is an important term to finding resources that can be utilized with your income.
Finding a Doctor
- Figure out what you need in a doctor. Do you have a disability? Do you have a language requirement? Check their website and/or call the office to see if the doctor specializes in your needs.
- Look locally and check to see if they take your insurance. You can check on their website, but normally I like to call and check because it’s possible that they do not update their website.
- Look up online patient reviews. If you have a good experience, make sure you leave a review to help other people with your needs to find a good doctor too!
- When you go for your first appointment, take note on the process. Take note on whether the office was clean, if you felt comfortable, if your doctor gave informed answers, etc.
- You can always try changing doctors if you believe it did not meet your standard for the care that you need.
A Note on Cultural Relevance
This may be a more complicated process if you are part of a community that has been systematically harmed in medical history (e.g. poc, lgbtq*, immigrant status, etc.). However, a good place to start would be to ask people within your cultural community about their medical care. Do they feel comfortable with their doctors? Do they know anyone else within your community who has a good doctor? Online reviews may be helpful on medical websites, but in-person reviews from people you trust can help you too.
- Social media groups can be a good place to find more information about medical resources for your particular identity. Search different hashtags to find people with similar health needs as you. They might suggest alternative health traditions as well.
- At the same time, it is important to recognize that everything on the internet may not be true. It’s important to check with other sources about information you learn online as well.
- Even if you have NOT had difficulties accessing medical care because of your identity, I encourage you to do research on learning about medical history and harm on different communities. There are many histories on this subject, but here is some suggested reading that can help you get started:
Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts
- Support access to medical education programs for people from diverse cultural backgrounds. We need more people in the medical field who reflect the diversity of our communities.
- Support conversations to have medical professionals trained in cultural awareness in order to ensure that all people have equal opportunity to healthcare.
- Vote in your state and federal elections to support greater healthcare access for all people.
On Being Prepared Before Your Appointment
- Create a documentation process to keep track of all of your health information. This can be a physical journal, Google doc, or note in your phone to keep track of all your medical information in one place.
- Keep a log of all payments, date, provider paid, and invoice number. It’s important to stay organized with your payment information because it can help avoid confusion with billing, or even overbilling issues at times.
- Ask your family about their health history and record it in your health journal. Not only will this help your doctor, but you might have to get tested earlier for certain medical examinations if you have a family history of a specific condition.
- Do you know all of your personal information? Social security number, phone numbers, primary care physician phone number and address, pharmacy phone number and address, etc.?
- If you are nervous about knowing all of this information, you can ask your doctor’s office to scan/fax/email the documents before your appointment to you so you know what information you need in order to be prepared. Sometimes they let you come in with them already filled out.
- Make sure you actually read all documents that you have to sign before the appointment. This has important information! If you don’t understand something, ask the front desk.
- Record your symptoms and pains with the date. Keep tabs on how you’re feeling in general and share this information with your doctor.
- Always have your insurance card and state-issued photo ID on you. (Bonus: keep a photocopy on your phone/email).
- You should arrive 15 minutes before your appointment to fill out paperwork. They may be able to see you earlier.
- Many doctors tend to overbook themselves, so bring a book or sudoku to your appointment. However, if you feel like your doctor does not give you the time you deserve, be an advocate for yourself and find a new doctor. You deserve to be heard and not rushed.
- Be prepared with questions to ask your doctor. Write them down in your journal before the appointment. When they answer questions, ask them to explain the terminology for you to understand. Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions that come up at the appointment either.
- Speak slower than your conversational speed while on the phone with a representative. There’s no rush--the slower the better.
- If you are dealing with a specific issue on the phone, you should ask for the name of the representative you are speaking with and record this information with the date. This will help you keep tabs if there is a persistent issue with communication at this office.
- While it may be frustrating to speak on the phone with staff at times (especially if you have an urgent issue), remember to always treat the other person with respect. Take a deep breath and keep it cool.
- With that being said, you have the right to be kind AND persistent. Be an advocate for your health! Keep notes, research your resources, and keep tabs on difficult situations with names and dates. If it’s a very serious and persistent issue and the staff member is not helping, you can try firmly asking to speak with the doctor directly.
- Set an alarm to take your medication at the same time every day.
- Take a multivitamin! They’re not too expensive.
- Use a weekly or monthly pill case if you’re someone who forgets often.
- Always tell your doctor if you have an allergy to medication or if you are already taking medications already.
- Take a record on how your medication makes you feel and be aware of this medication’s side effects.
- For many insurance companies, yearly check-up appointments are FREE or a very low co-pay.
- Many insurance companies have gym programs, where they will pay for part of a gym membership if you make a certain amount of classes in a designated time. Call your insurance company to see if they have a similar program.
- Keep track of when you go to your appointments in your calendar as a record.
- Keep the phone numbers, addresses, and full names of each of your doctors in your health journal and phone.
- Ask for a copy of vaccinations to have in your files. Make sure you are up-to-date with your vaccinations. You can check this information with your general physician.
- Check your voicemail and emails! I know it’s 2019, but people still use voicemail, so you must clear your voicemail box!
Many health professional suggest these time frames for general appointments as the minimum for your personal care. However, if you have a specific issue, you can go to your general physician and they can give you a referral to a specialist that can focus on this specific area.
- General physician check-up: Yearly
- OBGYN/gynecologist (for people with vaginas): Yearly
- Dentist: Two Times a Year
- Eye doctor: Yearly or every other year if you don’t have sight problems
Alcohol, Drugs & Cigarettes
- I don’t think it’s my place to tell you that you need to give up these types of habits if you want a healthier life. In fact, studies have proven that knowing that these behaviors harm your health does not normally stop people from engaging in these activities by itself. But I encourage you to take a second and think about your relationship with these substances:
How does it make your mind and body feel?
Does it affect your interpersonal relationships?
Does it affect your ability to reach your goals?
When engaging in these activities, it’s important to be mindful about why you are doing them.
- For legal alcohol or drug use (e.g. marijuana in some states), make sure you put yourself in a safe environment and can contact someone if you are in an emergency or unsafe condition.
Physical Health and Wellness
- Check in with doctor if there are any exercises that you should not perform. If this is the case for you, ask your doctor how to adapt certain exercises to fit your situation or even reach out to a personal trainer. But also always remember to listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, check your form or stop doing the exercise completely.
- For flexibility, it might be helpful to try yoga or stretching for at least 15 minutes each day. There are many free YouTube videos to practice stretching online. For example, Yoga with Adriene is an approachable and beginner-friendly introduction to incorporating yoga in your daily life.
- Cardio (Aerobic) exercise not only helps your heart health, but it also helps to release endorphins and reduce risk for many diseases. There are many different types of exercises you can complete to keep your heart rate up. You can try starting with a brisk walk and then explore different ways your body might want to move around.
- Strength training is very important to keep your bones, muscles, joints, and overall body strong. Even if you may not feel the need to hit the gym, there are many floor activities available online that can hit different target muscle groups. There are free Youtube videos, such as Fitnessblender, that provide videos on both cardio and strength training you can do at home with no equipment.
Mental Health and Wellness: On Finding Good Counseling
- Many of the bullets underneath the “On Finding a Good Doctor” and “A Note on Cultural Relevance” can be utilized here
- Check to see if your counselor takes your insurance. There are counselors who take Medicaid insurance or even provide a sliding scale payment method for their services. For people who are new to counseling, it is important that you recognize that you have the power to direct the conversation and set the pace on how you want to delve into your personal therapy. If you do not feel comfortable talking about certain subjects yet, vocalize this to your counselor. If you don’t feel comfortable with a counselor, it might be helpful to reach out to your friends and family, a local support group or faith community leader to help give you guidance on your next steps for resources.
- Lifestyle Choices: Many of us have already heard about the simple daily steps that we should take in order to achieve better mental health. However, it’s one thing to hear this over again, and another to cultivate healthy habits into your schedule.
- Try to set smaller, attainable goals to complete these habits on a regular basis. If you attain this small goal regularly, then slowly increase them.
- Think about creating a Wellness Journal where you write a quick note daily on how you feel physically and mentally, along with the goals you completed that day.
Here are some suggestions of healthy goals you can cultivate:
Eight Hours of Sleep - Try to set a bedtime every night, including the weekends. Stay away from screens before falling asleep and think about creating a morning and nighttime ritual that will help keep you on track.
Food - In order to find out your body’s needs, I suggest tracking the foods you eat and writing how they make you feel physically and mentally in a Wellness Journal. Not only does this help with healthy eating habits, but you might also have a food intolerance that you may not even recognize yet.
Meditation - I never believed in meditation until last year. Since then, I believe that this has been the most transformative daily practice that I’ve incorporated in my life. If this is an unfamiliar concept to you, try guided meditations for free on Youtube, or even pay for a subscription on apps like Headspace.
Journal - Not only does this help release stress, but it can also grow your empathy and self-awareness. You don’t have to write a huge entry every day, but jotting down a few sentences in a phone or Google Doc can also be another way to journal conveniently.
Exercise releases incredible endorphins for your mental health. It can also help improve your self-image. Tracking in a Wellness Journal can help keep you motivated in your habit.
Water - While it might seem simple, drinking around 2 Liters every day can drastically improve your health. Water not only flushes out your body’s toxins, but it also boosts your immune system and can improve your mental health through brain hydration too.
Finally, think critically on your mind-body connection. The majority of these habits are often related to benefits for both your mind and body. Take moments throughout your day to think about this connection and the ways in which you can improve your behavior to help this awareness each day.
I wrote this as an act of love to my reader, but also as an act of love to myself. As I journey into adulthood, I’ve begun to think critically on the moments in my life when I believed certain services were too inaccessible for me; when I would tell myself I did not need to reach out for help with my mind or body; when I thought I did not deserve to cultivate healthy habits for myself; and when I believed that I had no control on how to help my pain.
However, as of now, I am slowly realizing that in the work of taking care of our bodies, we are actively working toward the fight for equality. There are many interlocking systems that are working to diminish access to the healthcare that the majority of people need and deserve. Similarly, there are also many connected entities that profit and benefit from us not not taking care of ourselves in the ways that are within our sphere of control as well.
Therefore, each time you take a moment to focus on your health, you are undoing systems that are explicitly working to exploit you and your body. And even though this guide does not have answers for this larger issue, I hope this will help to encourage my readers to not only advocate for themselves, but to eventually reach a point where they feel full and ready enough to work on the advocacy needed for others.
I hope this serves as a call to take the first steps in this self-process because we need more voices in the fight for all of us to have the healthy lives we deserve.