The discussion about entitlement reform is coded in language that many young adults do not fully understand. What are "entitlements" and why are they often politically talked about with such negativity? Are they the reason our country is in a budget crisis? Are they really that important? While the discussions about deficits and reform continue in the news, many young adults are not paying attention. We tend to tune out when politicians battle back and forth. Therefore, we are not as aware as we should be of how our futures may be impacted.
I began working at my family's neighborhood hardware store, over the summers, when I was 15. Eventually I went to college, graduated and started a job in corporate America that paid me very well. I remember receiving my paychecks throughout those years and noticing money taken out for Social Security. I didn't really have a concept, at that point, of what Social Security truly was. I just knew the money was going to something I might need when I was "old." You can imagine my shock when my doctor told me, in my mid-twenties, that if I did not stop working to focus on my medical treatments, I may die.
I remember walking into my boss's office not exactly sure how to give my two weeks notice, and terrified about how I could afford my health care if I didn't have a job. The human resources director was in the meeting with us and he explained to me that I could apply early for my Social Security. He also told me that after my COBRA ran out, I would be eligible for Medicare to continue health coverage. I remember thinking "I'm young, I shouldn't be talking about Medicare."
Drawing on "entitlements" at a young age was not my plan. My career was going very well, I was healthy in every usual sense of the word, until this rare condition became a problem. No one saw this coming, but thank goodness for those safety-net programs our country has in place. I had a lease on an apartment, a car loan, and basic costs of living that needed to be paid. I hadn't foreseen a catastrophic illness. Although I had a decent savings account, that money was gone very quickly with medical costs and no supplemental income. Social Security allowed me to pay my bills, and Medicare allowed me access my medication and treatment when COBRA ran out.
I'm in my thirties now and when I talk to other young adults newly diagnosed with illness, I see the same disconnect I had early on. Some don't really understand how health insurance works. Most don't have a real grasp on what "entitlement reform" would mean to them. Social Security and Medicare for the younger generations is an "out of sight, out of mind" scenario. We haven't had to think about these very complex fiscal topics prior to an unexpected devastating announcement of illness.
It seems to me, most of the people making the decisions about "entitlements" are those whose futures are set with government sponsored pension plans, and top notch health care policies that continue for the remainder of their lives. The majority of politicians will never have to use Medicare or Medicaid. If we cannot imagine ourselves in another's situation, it is easy to do away with, or drastically cut back programs that are meant to help people when they have no other options.
I do not know the answers to the budget deficits, and I am not a politician. I am someone, however, who despite being responsible and hard working, ended up in a very precarious position with only these entitlements to catch me. This is why our generation needs to step forward, educate ourselves on the topic, and talk about the misconceptions. Those of us who access our entitlements because of cancer or illness are not freeloading, we're being resourceful and finding a way to survive.
Ideally, young adults will never have to be asked to stop the momentum of their lives, but in the real world some of us are. Therefore, we need to understand what Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare do, and why these programs are in place. These entitlement reform discussions that many of us roll our eyes at, really are important for ourselves and others who may need these services somewhere in the future, despite our expectations.