Uncle Sam's "We Want You!" finger is pointed directly at the nose of every young adult in America. But do we want him?
In stark contrast to the name-calling disaster that was the government shutdown of 2013, Congress quietly passed a spending bill this month with a whopping $1.1 trillion price tag.
The bill laid out what spending will look like over the remainder of President Barack Obama's second term, including the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, the crown jewel of his administration. What it doesn't manage to explicitly lay out in its 1,582 pages, however, is who is paying for it.
Millennials, whether we like it or not, are faced with yet another tab to pick up. And even though we're paying, the evidence suggests that we're just not buying it.
The success of the ACA lives or dies based on participation of young people. The White House confidently predicted that 40 percent of enrollments would come from "invincibles," or those of us between the ages of 18 and 34 who are in good health and will pay in to the system much more than we take out. Just one hiccup: only 24 percent of enrollees so far are 18 to 34 years old.
It looks like the ACA is still too expensive of a pill to swallow.
Former President Clinton reminded us that this number wasn't just an optimistic prediction -- it's essential to keeping the ACA afloat. And he's not the only Democrat hesitant to think the ACA is a slam-dunk. Jim Moran, 12-term Virginia representative, said not enough young people are signing up to make the law viable.
"I'm afraid that the millennials, if you will, are less likely to sign up," Moran said in an interview with WAMU American University Radio. "I think they feel more independent, I think they feel a little more invulnerable than prior generations. But I don't think we're going to get enough young people signing up to make this bill work as it was intended to financially."
And, indeed, a record number of Americans -- 42 percent -- now identify as independents.
The benefits seemed too good to be true: no pre-existing conditions, low premiums and the peace of mind that comes with medical insurance. But as word spread that premiums are set to increase by an average of 41 percent and millions of plans were canceled after we were promised we could keep them, our attitude toward the ACA remains stubbornly cynical.
Young people showed up in record numbers to elect President Obama with the promise that things would change. With two months to go before the March 31st deadline, the administration hopes to reignite that spark by quickly ramping up its advertising efforts, showing that the American healthcare system's success lies in the hands of Pajama Boy and Family Guy advertisements.
Amidst this landscape, older generations have dubbed us the lazy and entitled generation. It appears we're more concerned about spring breaks than spring enrollment deadlines. And as the number of uninsured young people actually increases despite awareness of the ACA penalties, it's easy to blame it on our sense of invulnerability.
In fact, the American Action Forum found that 6 out of 7 uninsured young people would spend less on healthcare by taking the penalty and foregoing health insurance. We already pay in to unsustainable Medicare and Social Security systems projected to fall miserably short in payouts once we reach old age. So maybe it's not that we're invulnerable--we're just not that gullible.
But regardless of one's generational perspective on the failures of the ACA, the lackluster response is symptomatic of an attitude spreading across the country. Twenty and thirtysomethings are turning against the idea that mother--in this case, the government--knows best.
As we foot the bill for President Obama's ever-growing list of entitlements designed to primarily benefit the aging population in charge, we're faced with a harsher reality we didn't ask for. And as healthcare reform leans on young people as a crutch, it should come as no surprise when we stay home this time.
To be clear, America's healthcare system is in desperate need of reform. We as a country pay substantially more for healthcare than our OECD counterparts and don't receive a higher payoff. But this reform is not it.
Perhaps not even Pajama Boy can turn a reviled entitlement program into the vibrant healthcare marketplace we need.
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