Young, Healthy, Uninsured

Posted Aug. 25, 2009, at 6:50 p.m.

In a meeting last Thursday with his volunteer support group, Organizing for America, President Obama planned strategy to push back against the myths and distortions being spread about the complex plans moving through Congress to reconfigure the nation’s health care systems. The president said he had, earlier in the day, taken a telephone call while he was a guest on a conservative radio show from a woman who believed the plans called for moving everyone to a government-run health insurance program. Not so, of course.

The president also noted in the session, which was broadcast on the Web, that the news media has made much of his recent comments which suggested the government-run public option would not be part of the final plan. Mr. Obama said he is committed to the public option, but noted that just as important is the goal of reforming the way private insurance operates.

One of the volunteers in the session asked the president about young adults who are too old to be covered by their parents’ health insurance, but who lack the full time job or wages to pay for their own insurance. Mr. Obama recalled his first post-college jobs, and how they may not pay enough or offer enough benefits. “You’re opting out of [health insurance] to buy food — which you think is important to your health,” he joked.

The final plan, the president said, should include a provision that would allow parents to carry their adult children on their policy until the age of 25 or 26. Young adults are “relatively cheap to insure,” he said, but they will have to pay something for the coverage, probably on a sliding scale based on income.

But why not look at insuring young adults in another way, a way that addresses some of the critics of the public option and reassures older Americans who have Medicare coverage or anticipate having it soon? The federal government could create a Medicare for those 21 to 30. Participation would be voluntary.

This group, as the president said, is generally healthy and therefore inexpensive to cover. It also is a group that begins to set patterns for life on nutrition and exercise so preventive care would go a long way. And many women give birth in their 20s, so having good care can prevent health problems among infants.

It is also a segment of the population not likely to react violently to such an innovation; not having had insurance before, young adults won’t fret over what it does or does not cover. And adding this group to the insurance rolls is politically savvy because that age group voted for President Obama in large numbers.

If one of the goals for health insurance reform includes getting more people covered, this step might win public support and at the same time placate anxious seniors by showing them that the Medicare concept is worthy of expansion, not curtailment.

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