“It takes irony to appreciate the joke which is on oneself,” Jessamyn West once said. Hopefully, President Obama can take West’s words to heart since, ironically, it's the Administration that's becoming the object of scorn due to the new health care law.
During the 2008 presidential elections, Obama reeled in two-thirds of the votes cast by young adults. It’s true he gave impressive speeches and highlighted issues of particular concern to young adults while campaigning. The media was quick to mold him and his leading lady into fashionable icons, which appealed to the youth. However, if you speak with these same young voters today, the flashy Obama image has lost much of its appeal. One reason for his fading stardom: his healthcare reform, which will impose major costs on the younger generation.
The Harvard Institute of Politics reports that 53 percent of 18-29 year olds currently disapprove of the President's health care plan (compared to 44 percent who approve). This contributes to the overall drop in support for the President among this once loyal group. The Gallup Institute reports that in 2008, 74% of 18-29 year olds approved of Obama’s work, but as of June 24, this percentage dropped to 56%.
Part of the reason that so many young Americans have become critical of President Obama is that his policies clash with the core attributes of the generation. The 18-29 year old age group, aka the “Millenials,” is known for being entrepreneurial, libertarian, impatient and skeptical of the government. They want to see economic results here and now. As the polling company’s Kellyanne Conway said at a Cato Campus panel discussion in June, Obama’s “one-size fits all” healthcare model simply does not fit the shape of today’s Millenials. Even those who bought into the concept of government-run healthcare are today tapping their feet in frustration and asking “Where is it?!”
Another trait of the generation is its savvy. While the details of the law are complicated, 18-29 year olds understand how the key elements work and will affect them. As Conway put it during the same panel discussion, “Young people did not look at [Obamacare] anecdotally, but economically.” Price controls and individual mandates are designed to push more people – particularly young people – into the system. The plan will cause health insurance premiums to drop for the fragile elders and rise significantly for the healthy youth. Youth are essentially subsidizing health care for the 55+ age group. The Urban Institute has reported that “many young people could see their premiums double, whereas premiums for older adults could be cut in half.”
Mandates about what health insurance must contain will also hike up premium costs for young Americans. Such high costs with likely lead some young people to decide to forgo health insurance altogether. It's not that young people don't recognize the importance of insurance; in fact, 82 percent of 18-21 year olds admit that health insurance is vital, even if you are young and healthy. Yet many may do the math and find that it simply makes more economic sense to pay the fine for not having insurance instead of paying for over-priced premiums. Young Americans also rightfully worry that the new health care law will exacerbate another problem: joblessness. The current unemployment rate among young adults is 19.6%, which is double that of the national unemployment rate. Most 18-29 year olds are fresh out of school. They are trying to find first jobs, pay back college debt, and are entering the job market with high hopes but little experience. The last thing they need is another reason for businesses not to hire them. Yet mandates placed on employers to provide health care increase the cost of hiring new workers. That means fewer jobs will be available for these new grads. As the Associated Press’ Carla Johnson wrote last March in USA Today, “The higher costs will pinch many people in their 20s and early 30s who are struggling to start or advance their careers with the highest unemployment rate in 26 years.”
Although the job creation issue is close to their hearts, young Americans have actually expressed that the most pressing issue is the national debt. They are well aware that this health care bill will increase government debt, which this generation and the ones that follow will be left to pay for. The Galen Institute estimates that the new health care law comes with a price tag of $2.4 trillion for the next 10 years. If one were to stack each individual dollar bill next to each other, that $2.4 trillion would create a train of bills long enough to wrap around the Earth six and a half times!
It’s ironic that 66% of young adults voted for the “progressive” Presidential candidate, and now, thanks to one of his policies, this same age group is embracing more conservative options. The polling company found that 18-29 year olds express a strong acceptance of free market reforms for health care, such as allowing people to buy their own health insurance. Young adults want to see more competition, not the private sector driven out of the health sector. Perhaps the most disturbing dimension of the health care law, from the Millenials’ standpoint, is its inflexibility; as Galen’s Gracie-Marie Turner put it, “it is what it is.” Instead of the widespread choices that young people take for granted, this health care regime will offer few meaningful options.
If President Obama wants to win back the support of youth voters, he needs to embrace policies that give this generation choices and control over our own lives. After all, we do know ourselves better than any politician.