The news last week that Obamacare had reached 7 million enrollees killed a number of conservatives’ favorite memes against the law — more people had lost coverage than gained it, nobody wanted to sign up for it at all, etc. But even with some of the law’s best news in months, one attack was still going strong.
Obamacare is a raw deal — a disaster, really — for young Americans.
“Young people propelled Obama to office, but have not seen any benefits from his agenda. The latest youth unemployment figures show how Obama’s policies of higher taxes, increased regulations and, most importantly, ObamaCare have stunted Millennials economic opportunity,” Raffi Williams, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said in a Friday statement. “I just wish Obama would get out of the way and allow my generation to chase our American Dream.”
The truth, as is usually the case, is a bit more complicated.
To be upfront: Some young people, such as those who make more money and therefore won’t qualify for financial help under the law, will likely end up paying more for health insurance. That’s because — as The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn explains — young people benefitted from the old private insurance system, which allowed insurers to discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions or charge sicker customers considerably more, that Obamacare reforms.
Of course, those warning that this tradeoff is a negative for young adults omit one crucial fact: Young people eventually grow older. They get sick or develop the long-term medical conditions that used to price people out of the old insurance market, but won’t under Obamacare. On top of that, Obamacare includes specific provisions, particularly the rule that children up to age 26 can stay on their parents’ health plan, that have covered millions of young adults.
But these nuances, for some reason, seem to get lost in political messaging. There are in fact entire organizations that are essentially devoted to the mission of warning young Americans about how much they’re losing under Obamacare. One example: the Koch-affiliated Generation Opportunity, infamous for giving the world ‘Creepy Uncle Sam‘ and hosting anti-Obamacare tailgate parties.
So, while some conservatives sought to seriously grapple with the fact that 7 million Obamacare enrollees must change their conversation about the law, the folks over at Generation Opportunity continued beating the same drum.
“Obamacare and the government are basically viewing young people as disposable,” Rituparna Basu, an analyst at the Ayn Rand Institute, a free-market think tank, said at a webinar hosted by the group last week, “that their dreams and their hopes can be sacrificed, and that’s not right.”
The Generation Opportunity Twitter feed kept firing off the same rhetoric as news broke of Obamacare crossing the 7 million threshold.
— GenOpp (@GenOpp) April 1, 2014
— GenOpp (@GenOpp) April 1, 2014
— GenOpp (@GenOpp) April 2, 2014
— GenOpp (@GenOpp) April 4, 2014
That last issue should be resolved this week when the Obama administration releases the final data on Obamacare enrollment. So far, fewer young people, about 25 percent of all enrollees through February, have signed up than the White House hoped. But administration officials and health policy wonks always expected the young to be the last to sign up, meaning they could make up a bigger proportion of the record enrollment seen in March. Some early analysis suggests that they have.
And, yet again, the whole story is a little more complex. Independent analysts already projected that the current rate of young enrollees is enough to keep the insurance market sustainable. Not ideal, but hardly a death knell for the law.
In other words: the kind of distinction that Obamacare’s opponents, like Generation Opportunity, will need to reconcile as they confront the law’s new reality.
Correction: This post originally identified Rituparna Basu as a researcher at Pacific Research Institute. She is an analyst at the Ayn Rand Institute and wrote a report for PRI.