Co-authored with Aaron Smith, co-founder and executive director of Young Invincibles
With the fate of our health care system on the line, one would think that the Supreme Court would base their decisions on clear facts and objective data on the monumental issues at stake. Yet when it comes to young adults, the Supreme Court turned to the most obvious stereotypes and myths, unsupported by any facts at all. The most glaring myth discussed at oral arguments was that young people think they are invincible and therefore do not buy insurance. This is simply untrue. The reality is that young people do want health insurance, and both insured and uninsured young people DO want the health care law.
What do young people identify as their biggest priority? Like most Americans, they are focused on jobs and the economy. But for too many young adults, that job doesn't come with health insurance. We have hosted dozens of roundtables with young people across the country, from all backgrounds and communities. Young people understand the importance of health care and know that they run a huge risk without insurance. In fact, 68 percent of young adults express worry about being able to afford health care for them and their family. Uninsured young adults know that if they get sick or injured, that they won't be able to afford the bills. That's why too many of them forego needed care, or wait until it's so late they have to go to the ER. Another 16 percent of young adults actually have a pre-existing condition, and know firsthand that they may never be able to get or afford insurance to cover their medical problems. Finally, this generation does want to be responsible and pay their fair share. They don't like the idea that they will have to take charity care, or that they are just pushing costs on to taxpayers. That's why studies show that when offered insurance, young adults choose to pay for coverage at nearly the same rate as their older counterparts.
Additionally, over 2.5 million young adults have actually chosen to gain coverage in the past two years, thanks to the new provision allowing them to stay covered up to age 26. When we asked the 24 percent who are uninsured why they lacked coverage, the No. 1 reason by far was cost, In fact, only 5 percent of young adults overall say they do not want to buy health insurance. Young people don't have insurance because they cannot afford insurance -- just like older uninsured people.
Several of the Supreme Court Justices missed these points and relied on crude stereotypes. Justice Scalia said: "We're not stupid. They're going to buy insurance later. They're young... and need the money now." What he based this claim on is anyone's guess. It certainly wasn't based on facts. Justice Scalia later suggested that 2.5 million young adults got covered solely in "anticipation" of the mandate, and that such coverage would "bankrupt" the system.
First, it flies in the face of common sense and every conversation we have had with young adults and parents that a 22-year-old would get covered in 2011 on their parent's plan solely to avoid the penalty in 2014. Second, the cost of this private market expansion, which is not born by taxpayers, has been estimated at around 1 percent. That's hardly bankrupting the system. The arguments made by Scalia and others sound like political talking points, not reasoned legal opinions. It's why we created the www.MeetAYoungPerson.com website.
The facts show that the vast majority of young people do want health insurance. They do not think they are invincible and know they can get an illness or injury. Young people today are smart, entrepreneurial, and want to be responsible. In fact, we have heard from many that a lack of health coverage is one of the biggest impediments to starting a business. And young people who are starting families know their future and that of their children depends on them having choice and control over their health. They know that the benefits provided in Obamacare provides these choices and gives them this control, which is why they consistently support the law as much or more than any other age group.
So as the Supreme Court justices weigh a law that has helped millions of young Americans and families already, and will impact the future of this generation and the country, we ask that they stick to the facts -- not stereotypes or political rhetoric.
Aaron Smith, co-founder and executive director of Young Invincibles
Aaron is co-founder and executive director of YI. Aaron is a native of Yonkers, New York, an honors graduate of Swarthmore College ('04), and a cum laude graduate of Georgetown University Law Center ('10). After college, Aaron interned in the office of Congressman Chris Van Hollen and then worked for Emmaus Services for the Aging, a non-profit working to keep seniors in their homes in DC. He went back to Yonkers in 2006 to be the campaign manager of a NY State Assembly race, and went on to become the chief legislative aide for the Yonkers City Council President. While serving the city, Aaron helped to author a local living wage law and an affordable housing ordinance, and to create the first Yonkers Green Policy Task Force to promote environmentally friendly policies for the city.
Aaron has appeared in the NY Times, Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN, Politico, and PBS NewsHour, among other media outlets, discussing a variety of issues impacting young Americans. In December 2010, he testified before the Senate Commerce Committee on the problems with "mini-med" plans and how they fail to provide affordable health care for young workers. Aaron believes strongly in the power of young Americans to change the world.