Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why health reform is an issue for younger voters

The Pew Research Center released a report on the Millennial generation yesterday - that's those folks presently aged 18-29. At age 29, I am the oldest member of the generation. Pew mentions that many Millennials are confident in the economic future of America despite having their careers badly set back by the recession.

Fellow Millennials: our economic future is contingent upon us passing health reform. Without meaningful health reform, it all goes down the toilet.

Today, Kaiser Health News linked to several reports showing that one in three adults aged 20-29 is uninsured. We are the largest single chunk of the uninsured.

In one or two states, Minnesota being one, dependent children can stay on their parents' health insurance plans up to age 26. After that, you get kicked off. Alternatively, if you marry before that, as many people do, you get kicked off.

Normally, people our age would graduate from college and get jobs. These days aren't normal. Pew indicates that at the moment, 22% of 18-29 year olds are unemployed. 24% of us are working part time, and you can bet a lot of those would rather be working full time. These figures are higher than for both older cohorts, the Gen Xers and the Boomers. Of those of us who are employed, 31% of us say we are making enough money to lead the kind of life we want. We are far more likely to change jobs than older cohorts. Many of the jobs we are working in will not be with large employers who offer employer-sponsored health insurance - the most stable and functional part of the present health insurance market.

We need an individual market that offers us choice and portability, whether we are coming into it for the first time or sticking with it for a few years. We need subsidies to be able to afford health insurance. The health reform bills that the Democrats have proposed would do that. The Wyden-Bennett bill, which has some bipartisan support, would also do so - W-B is a more radical proposal in that it would essentially destroy the employer-sponsored system within a few years, so I'd be cautious about this; the link goes to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of the bill.

None of the proposals that the Republicans have put forward would do so. The recent bill they released that would cover a net 3 million additional people would merely weaken the quality of coverage we could buy. Overall, 3+ million young and healthy folks would now find insurance cheap enough to afford. However, some less healthy and older people would now be unable to afford insurance. Trust me, any of us could develop a chronic disease. And all of us are aging by the second. Senator McCain's campaign proposal is the Republican plan that comes the closest to helping people of our generation. It would end the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored insurance and give everyone a voucher to buy insurance. Many Millennials would be able to buy coverage. However, the McCain plan made no modifications to the insurance marketplace to end discrimination by health status - meaning that if you had a bout of depression, which is one of the most common illnesses known to humankind, insurance companies might well refuse to cover you. Or if you had a bout of asthma, or you developed diabetes.

If the Republicans were truly interested in good governance and compromise, then they could back either the Wyden-Bennett bill, or the bill proposed by the Bipartisan Policy Center. Either of these plans is workable. The current Senate bill looks a lot like the BPC bill. Or they could propose modifications to the bill - perhaps they could suggest a tougher version of the excise tax and tougher cost controls coupled with removing some of the taxes on unearned income.

I'm just throwing some suggestions out there for them. However, I listened in on the health reform summit. Truly, it does not sound like the Republicans are able or willing to admit there is a problem with our health insurance system. They probably do not care about the 45 million or so uninsured people.

Again, health reform is a key issue for Millennials. Many of us are one serious illness or accident away from bankruptcy. The future's not going to look so bright with a ton of medical debt. We need reform, and we need it right now.

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