When Matt Singer was 19 years old he decided he needed a break from college. He left Whitman College and moved home to Montana, working part time to support himself. He was doing fine until one day when he woke up with intense stomach pain and had to drive himself to the hospital. Three hours later, after a CAT scan and blood tests, it was confirmed that Matt had a kidney stone. Young and healthy, he recovered quickly and was back at work the next day. One week later he received a $1200 bill in the mail for the hospitals services. "When I opened the bill my mouth dropped to the ground, $1200 was what I was making in a month!" says Matt Singer.
This is not an unusual story. Singer is a member of the age group, 18 to 29-years-olds, that is most likely to be uninsured in this country. "I'm lucky. I had a family that could help me cover the medical bills. Not everyone my age is so lucky. Some folks with kidney stones just have to accept the pain and hope it passes, so to speak." Singer's situation and debt was minor compared to some of the situations his friends and co-workers have been in. "The health care debate tends to be about old people and families but, in all honesty, there isn't a generation with more to lose from this broken system and more to gain from reform."
A new SurveyUSA poll released yesterday shows that Singer is not alone in his call for reform. Singer's a member of the age group (18-34) that both expressed the strongest desire for reform and the strongest support for a public option. According to the SurveyUSA poll, 60% of those 18-34 support Obama's plan -- including 66% of 18 to 24-year-olds and 74% of 25 to 29-year-olds -- compared to 51% overall. "This is our generation's shot at real reform, we aren't going to let it pass us by," says Singer.
That's why in April of this year, Singer launched a national volunteer run campaign called Generation H which is working to elevate the voices of young people in the health care debate and call for comprehensive health care reform. With field campaigns in Oregon, Colorado and Montana, Generation H volunteers are hitting the streets with their own brand of canvassing. Every weekend young people dress up in scrubs and carry stethoscopes and clipboards to conduct what they refer to as "public-interest transfusions to the health care debate." These 'fake doctors' go door to door surveying young voters to find out what they want from the health care system and help them write letters to their elected officials on the spot. "Because we are dressed up and laughing and joking around, young people actually answer the door to talk to us to find out what we are doing", says 18 year old Generation H volunteer Natasha Berwick. "In other campaigns I've worked on, I'll knock on 40 doors in a row and not engage in a real conversation with anyone. As a fake doctor almost every single person talks to you."
Generation H also works in the new media arena on Twitter, Facebook and video. They encourage young people across the country to join the 'FluTube' and become part of "an ultra-viral video pandemic." These creative tactics are effective. In Montana alone, volunteers have knocked on over 10,000 doors and collected 4,000 citizen comments which were delivered to law makers.
Generation H is a project of the Bus Federation that started in Montana and is spreading across the country. They are not alone in their efforts to make young voters heard on this issue. Rock the Vote is running a national multimedia campaign to bring young people's experience with health care to the forefront of the debate called "Yes We Care." Members of the League of Young Voters are paying visits to key law makers in Maine and Pennsylvania. And the State PIRGs are leading a national education tour about the inadequacies of the health care system using a 7 foot doll named Healthcare Harry. Some may scoff at the tactics used to get the attention of young voters, but it's working- according to the SurveyUSA poll 91 percent of young people in this country say they are paying attention to health care issues.
"Let's see: young people care about the issue, are the most supportive of changing the system, and have the most to gain from comprehensive reform - and the most to lose from its failure," said Thomas Bates of Rock the Vote. "This is our fight, too. And we're going to do it our way."