Opinion

Healthcare reform must not ignore the Millennials

Healthcare reform will be a crucial test of the Millennial generation's pro-government sentiment. Congress can’t afford to lose the support of young voters.

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Almost everyone seems to be talking about my generation. With good reason. The Millennials (Generation-Y) are 95 million strong and many of us are in our 20s. We’re beginning to become a very influential part of the American public.

Congress should think about that as work on the healthcare reform bill comes to a close on Capitol Hill this week. Lawmakers who interpret recent quiet on the healthcare debate as apathy do so at their political peril.

There is a lot at stake in the outcome of this healthcare debate, not the least of which is the Millennials’ potential loss of trust in the US government.

Last week an extensive Pew Research Center report on Millennials shed light on teens and 20-somethings born after 1980. Much of it sounded quite familiar. In fact, a lot of it could have been lifted right off my Facebook profile.

Self-described liberal? Check. Unaffiliated with any organized religion? Check. Voted for Barack Obama? Check.

It appears that, aside from my conspicuous lack of tattoos and video gaming prowess, I’m pretty much the prototypical Millennial.

Perhaps the most intriguing finding to come out of a new Pew report is how optimistic Millennials are, despite being the group hardest hit by the economy. Ninety percent who are currently unhappy with their income level believe that their circumstances will improve.

We’re also significantly more pro-government and pro-regulation than Gen X or our baby boomer parents. According to the report, though, more than half believe that “government should do more to solve problems.”

I thought about this while I watched the healthcare reform summit Feb. 25, during which Republican leaders talked about “incremental changes” and scrapping the bill altogether, and Democrats made vague, open-ended threats to move forward without the opposition party. Congress should take a moment to consider the Millennials.

One third of Millennials are currently uninsured. I live in southern California, where several people I know who purchase private insurance through Anthem Blue Cross woke up a few weeks ago to find that their premiums will be going up by nearly 40 percent in May.

These costs are untenable for a group in which 37 percent are currently either unemployed or out of the workforce. I don’t know a single person my age who thinks that the current healthcare system works, or believes that things will improve without significant government intervention.

A friend of mine recently posted a Facebook status message about her frustration trying to get a simple medical procedure covered by her insurance company. Within two hours, her wall was covered with comments from other 20-somethings sharing their own health insurance horror stories.

A section of the Pew report that deals with attitudes about healthcare reform reported that fewer than half of the Millennials polled said they generally favored the proposals being discussed in Congress (older age groups were even less supportive of the proposals), even though the majority did not believe that their own health coverage would improve.

In particular, though, Millennials were most supportive of areas of the bill that dealt with government responsibility.

According to the report: “Millennials broadly favored two of the bills’ proposals that potentially could affect people who currently lack health insurance coverage: the requirement that all Americans have insurance, with the government providing help for those unable to afford it, and a government health insurance plan to compete with private plans.”

Although Millennials are still solidly pro-Obama, the Pew report suggests that the election fervor is cooling. Our passion proved to be an important factor in 2008.

If election fervor continues to cool, many of us may tune out of the political process altogether. That would mean that progressive lawmakers will lose a major base of support.

We’re a group that is more liberal and socially progressive than previous generations. Politicians need to address issues that matter to us. With healthcare, that means providing a safety net for people who don’t have adequate coverage.

Millennials are defined by our technology use – the Internet and social networking sites are our town halls and all lawmakers should be engaging us in this arena.

Mainly we need to see some action. Endless debate and legislative haggling on major issues like healthcare reform will only dampen our enthusiasm. To keep our support, Congress has to demonstrate that it is capable of providing solutions to major problems.

Millennials have often been called “the entitlement generation.” We’re educated and used to getting what we want and we’re even larger than the boomer generation. The president we voted for and the Congress that we support have an opportunity right now to demonstrate that our optimism and our faith in government hasn’t been misplaced.

This is a battle that Millennials can’t afford to lose. And Congress can’t afford to lose us.

Meghan Lewit is a writer/editor based in Los Angeles. She has written extensively about health and medicine.

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