02/24/2014 11:31 am ET Updated Apr 26, 2014

Millenials at Mānoa and Obamacare

Noah Higa and a bunch of fellow Honors students at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa recently took the time to examine a label -- millenials -- often used to describe their generation. Their research led many of them to the 2013 Time article by Joel Stein that described millenials as the "Me, Me, Me Generation." Without exception they were quick to accept many of the not-so-flattering charges of narcissism and extreme attachment to small screens. Their ready admissions were a telling indicator of emotional maturity -- something they are often accused of not having.


Millenials at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa are quick to recognize who they are and what they are capable of. pix by Jeffrey Kleyner

I wonder whether we baby boomers who raised this generation would be as quick to accept our share of the blame for the over-confidence and self-absorption we now see in millenials? Did you ever tell your kids -- or anyone else's -- that they could be anything they wanted to be? If you did -- even with the best of intentions -- to boost self-confidence perhaps, you still did them a disservice. Because it is simply not true. Everyone cannot be what they want to be. Many try. Some succeed. And out of this generation we will continue to see several blaze new trails and achieve wonderful things. But it still does not give us the right to keep dispensing bromides about the prospects for meteoric success. Keeping young people grounded is not sexy. It's much more exciting to foster dreams of celebrity, of being the next inventor of the coolest happening in the cloud, or the next crowd-funded global entrepreneurial effort on the ground.

How Hard Must Millenials Work to Understand the ACA?

So we have a generation of dreamers who think they can do anything, often with far less effort than the way we baby boomers used to do it. Noah captured the ambivalence of his peers: "We want to continue to move forward, despite how many of us simply do not want to get involved."

The attitude of many millenials at Manoa to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a case in point. When asked to examine what the ACA means to them, most conclude that they benefit from it. But millenials like Noah are quick to point out that "in this time of political war between the parties, where lies blur the truth, it takes effort to find the reality behind it all without any personal experience."

His classmate, Nicole Bandy, believes that despite all the technology that makes access to information easier, she does not "pay attention to politics because I am so busy with school and work. By the time I have some free time, I want to sleep. So when the polls open I have no right to vote because I simply am uneducated about the topics."

She is not alone. We are all poorer as a community because millenials like Nicole deal themselves out of the politics that will shape their world.

Learning From Experience

That world has dealt several instructive blows to Louise Currie:

2003: I fell off a roof and broke my wrist. 2005: I fell off a playground structure and broke my other wrist. 2007: I tripped and broke my first wrist again. 2009: I fell while skiing and broke both bones in my leg.

Unlike most millenials -- otherwise known as "invincibles" because they cannot imagine themselves being struck down by illness -- Louise, who is a college athlete, said, "I know that accidents happen and that having insurance is essential to avoid incredibly high medical expenses."

Wesley Babcock also recognizes the value of universal healthcare. But he finds it an uphill battle to advocate effectively for enrollment in the ACA amongst some of his less enthusiastic family members and friends who have seen their premiums rise.

"I believe a cohesive statement about the limitations and benefits of policies is necessary for consumers to make educated and informed decisions," he said.

Certainly the public would have been well-served by the kind of snappy summary Wesley yearns for. But millenials used to a regular diet of text messages and emoticons may be more alarmed than they should be by the frequent misleading reference to the 2000-plus pages of the ACA. In fact, it is 900 some pages as one editor has pointed out -- about the length of a Stephen King novel -- and probably just as frightening to the right wingers, as the same editor also observed.

Many millenials, according to another student, Saydielyn Mandaguit-Arakaki, "don't know anything about the ACA and are prepared to make uninformed decisions about it."

Her classmate, Nicholas Steger, however, liked the responsive, socialized healthcare system he had access to while growing up in Tahiti. He embraces the ACA as something that is "important not only to my life but to improve the overall health and care of Americans."


l to r:Wesley Babcock, Noah Higa,Chris Magallones,Nicholas Steger, Louise Currie, Saydielyn-Mandaquit-Arakaki,Nicole Bandy. pix by Jeffrey Kleyner

For Chris Magallones, the ACA has been invaluable in allowing his widowed mother to provide for her three children, two of whom have special medical needs.

"I cannot imagine the hardship that families had to go through before to survive. The cost of healthcare was unbearable. I am very privileged to live in a society where my mom is now able to afford healthcare and is still capable of putting food on the table every night. And send me to college," he added. Chris would no doubt be a willing warrior in what Noah Higa sees as the mission of the millenials: "To clear the air of political dust, and make way for perhaps a clearer future of truth and facts."

Perhaps we baby boomers can help by walking the millenials we know through how the ACA can help protect their future. But it is equally encouraging that the millenials are empowering themselves through organizations like the Young Invincibles. With their confidence and collaborative spirit, maybe millenials are indeed already building the world of their dreams.