January 1, 1970 (Vol. , No. )
Taralyn Tan Ph.D. Curriculum Fellow Harvard Medical
Healthcare reform is certainly is the topic of the hour…every hour, in fact. You can wake up to it on your television or radio. It follows you onto the subway as a whisper among your fellow commuters. Its name floats throughout the cafeteria. During any time of the day, it serves as the perfect conversation filler. (Nice weather, eh?…So how ‘bout them Red Sox?…Did you catch Obama’s latest speech on healthcare?) With so much discussion and analysis – with Mr. President himself addressing the general public on multiple occasions to engage them in the dialogue – surely every angle has been addressed, right? Has everyone been invited to this ‘round the clock healthcare reform party? As of right now, the answer is no, and I am writing as somebody who is still waiting for her invitation. Blame it on the postal service or an administrative oversight, but I can’t help but feel just a bit slighted. I can’t help but wonder, what about me???
You see, I am a member of Generation…well, whatever comes after Generation X. The “Millennial Generation” is my favorite terminology. (“Generation Y” just doesn’t pack the same punch and “Generation Next” is equally uninspired.) Nobody can definitively define the “Millennial Generation” – some say it consists of those born between 1972 and 2002, while others contend it refers to those born 1978 to 1989 – but you all know who we are. We are the young professionals; the college students and recent graduates, burdened with student loans (and credit card debt used to help pay those loans). We are the contingency that has been greatly ignored in the healthcare reform discussion.
When President Obama finally did address the “young and healthy” people of this country in his last speech to Congress, it was in the spirit of gentle scolding. He chided those self-proclaimed Supermen among us who believe that nothing short of Kryptonite can harm them – and therefore, they choose not to buy health insurance. And I agree with the president. No matter your age, it is ignorant to think that physical or medical maladies don’t happen to healthy people. (Do you forget that every sick or injured person in this country was at one point healthy?) Yet, as ignorance seems to be almost as much of an epidemic in this country as some medical afflictions, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that Obama is proposing mandated health insurance. We can’t expect all people to look out for themselves, so perhaps a bit of Skinnerian punishment in the form of a fine will encourage people to be responsible.
The majority of young people, though, realize the necessity of having health insurance. To these people it is clear that a health insurance marketplace to drive competition and lower prices, such as is being proposed, would be especially beneficial to members of the Millennial Generation. It would provide an affordable safety net against disease and injury for those starting to build their lives and careers. The proposed reforms offer some peace of mind to the young professionals who are entering the work force stressed about their student loans and (increasingly in today’s economy) worried that they’ll be able to enter the work force at all. At least in a reformed system they wouldn’t have to worry about having access to affordable health insurance.
So we’ve established that there are obvious benefits of the proposed healthcare reform to young professionals. Now it’s time for the president to start the discussion about how this healthcare reform will affect us. And no, I’m not talking about Obama’s less-than-flattering shout out to my generation. I don’t need to be chastised and I don’t need to be told the same facts that I already know. Since I’m going to be stuck in this system (reformed or not) much longer than Grandma, members of Congress, or President Obama himself, I need to be assured of my future. As various committees in Congress are penning their ideas of what shape healthcare reform should take, are they thinking about what the healthcare model will look like twenty, thirty, fifty years from now? For example, how sustainable is a public option, or cooperatives, or other variation thereof? (Social Security is supposedly self-sufficient, yet the annual Social Security Trustees’ Report speaks of impending bankruptcy.) For any insurance option outside of private plans, are the Millennial Generation’s insurance premiums going to be used to pay for the Baby Boomers’ treatments? If that is in fact the model, then will there be enough members of the next generation (“Generation Next Next”) to pay my future medical bills? We’ve heard plenty about how “this plan will not add to the deficit” in the here-and-now, but now let’s talk numbers for the years to come.
So please, Mr. President, Congress, everybody out there who is pushing healthcare reform, don’t neglect the group of people who have the most to invest in this new system. Invite us to the party. We appreciate what you’re doing, really we do, but we just want to make sure you’ve thought this out. Now is definitely the time to make changes, but are the changes you are proposing viable in the long run? We certainly don’t want our new shiny penny of a healthcare system to tarnish within a few short years.