When a friend of mine got her first job, she was devastated to learn that her company's health care plan wouldn’t cover her. She has a pre-existing condition, and needs expensive medicine, so this was some seriously bad news for her.
When she went to talk to her employer to see if anything could be done, he was surprised—-but not at the fact that my friend couldn’t be insured. No, her boss was surprised at my friend’s concern. "I thought young people didn’t care about stuff like health insurance," he said.
It's one of the biggest myths about health care: the idea that young workers don't need it and don't want it—-that they’d rather spend the money on video games or clothes or concerts instead...
That may be true of a few young adults, but I suspect not many. The union I work for, the UFCW, has one of the youngest memberships of any labor union, so we spend a lot of time talking with young workers. And the vast majority of young workers I’ve spoken with count health care as one of the issues most important to them.
They are a diverse group. Some are working to pay their way through college, some are still in high school, some are career employees, and many have families and children of their own. Most are no longer on their parents' health care; and indeed, their parents may be among the growing ranks of the uninsured.
But these young workers are the lucky ones. Since they belong to the UFCW, the vast majority have access to quality, affordable health care—-even if they only work part time.
Other young people may not be so lucky, but they need health care just the same. Even if they're completely healthy with no dependents, they still need to get tooth cleanings, eye care, and regular checkups. They can't just go without. Anyone who's gone without dental insurance for a few years (and I've been there) knows what an awful experience that is. You pay hundreds or even thousands just to get a cavity filled—-if you can afford it, and chances are, you can't.
And even the healthiest young person knows they're walking a tightrope without health insurance. A friend of mine gave up snowboarding after he was kicked off his parents' insurance and couldn’t afford coverage. He just couldn't take the risk of getting injured.
But you can't give up just walking down the street, driving a car, taking the subway, or even climbing the stairs in your own apartment. Accidents happen, and healthy people get hurt or sick. That includes young people.
Research shows that young people want health care and are supportive of health care for all. A study done in May by the Center for American Progress found that people 18 to 29 were more likely to support health care for all Americans than those in "any age group in any previous year." In our own focus groups with UFCW members and non-members, when asked what they want their union to secure for them, young people overwhelmingly put health care at or near the top of the list.
And they desperately need it. Demos recently conducted a study that found more than 18 million young people age 18 to 34 were without health care in 2006. It also found that young workers
are much less likely to have health insurance from their employer compared to a generation ago. In 1979, 63.3 percent of recent high school graduates had employer-provided health insurance, compared to 33.7 percent in 2004. Among recent college graduates, the percentage dropped from 77.7 percent to 63.5 percent.That's not because more young people than ever don't need health care, or don't want it. It's because more young people than ever just can't afford it, or don't have access to it.
That's one of the reasons the UFCW joined the Health Care for America Now coalition in the first place. I know people here have differing views on HCAN, but right now they're doing something really smart--they're trying to build political consensus on this very difficult issue. And they're making real progress.
Everyday I see the need, and the demand, for health care from a new generation of young people. And they don't care how it happens, but they know we need health care coverage for every American, and that we need it soon. Young people I talk to aren't fooled by John McCain's health care plan--they know they'd suffer under the tax his plan would impose on their health care. And they know they can't afford a plan for $5000 bucks. They can tell the difference between snake oil and the real deal.
Barack Obama gets it. That's why he just signed the Health Care for America Now statement, declaring that he's on the side of quality, affordable health care for all. And why more than 70 other members of Congress have signed on as well.
Hopefully, with Obama's leadership, we'll see even more members of Congress joining HCAN's grassroots campaign for guaranteeing quality, affordable health care. Because it's not about adherence to just one solution--it's about finding ways to bring everybody to the table, so we can find a solution that works for us all.