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For Cash-Strapped Millennials, Trump's Health Plan Won't Bring Relief

Trumpcare is a clear pathway toward record levels of youth poverty, writes Miles Howard. Shrugging off the future of millennials will eventually come at a grave price for older Americans.
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Trumpcare is a clear pathway toward record levels of youth poverty, writes Miles Howard. Shrugging off the future of millennials will eventually come at a grave price for older Americans. (Francisco Osorio/Flickr)

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Like many of the young Americans who came of age during the Great Recession, I constantly worry about money. It is the governing anxiety of my life. The fiscal obligations of being a “young professional” — paying for groceries and a place to live — are daunting enough. But the questions that really make my palms sweat are far grander in scope: Will I be able to support a family one day? Is retirement a realistic expectation for my generation? If I got cancer, could I afford the chemo? Or would I have to launch a Kickstarter campaign to subsidize my ongoing existence?

These are reasonable things for young people to be asking. Millennials — young adults born between 1980 and 2002 — are inheriting an increasingly austere society in which only the wealthy and connected are equipped to thrive. Decades of unmitigated wage stagnation, cost-of-living spikes and labor automation have left millennials considerably more broke than their baby-boom parents and even Generation X. Among other conclusions, the U.S. Census Bureau found that millennials are more likely to live at home, find themselves unemployed, or to slide into poverty — an existential chasm from which most never return.

That was 2016.

...the questions that really make my palms sweat are far grander in scope: Will I be able to support a family one day? Is retirement a realistic expectation for my generation? If I got cancer, could I afford the chemo?

Today, with Donald Trump installed as president, leading an administration and a Republican Congress that is excited to eviscerate what remains of America’s social welfare programs, the economic challenges facing millennials are going to get much worse.

The inherent generational warfare of the GOP agenda won’t come as news to anyone who has considered the implications of Trump's censorship campaign against climate change scientists or his appointment of a billionaire Christina Dominionist and charter school advocate as education secretary. And now, we’re on the brink of getting our first piece of landmark legislation that will cripple the young.

That legislation is the American Health Care Act: House Republicans’ long-awaited replacement for the Affordable Care Act, and a clear pathway toward record levels of youth poverty.

Taken at summary, the AHCA — or Trumpcare, as many are calling it — is a conspicuously cruel law that will hurt millions of Americans by clawing back coverage and increasing its cost significantly. (The superrich, who don’t have to worry about such things, will receive more tax cuts, of course.) By drastically hiking the individual penalty for going uncovered (from the ACA's fee of $695, or 2.5 percent of an individual's income), the Republican health care replacement is designed to intimidate millennials into ponying up for insurance policies to avoid a lapse in coverage. Considering the Congressional Budget Office's projection that the AHCA would cause a surge in premium prices, the GOP bill ensures a huge handout to health insurers.

But a closer look at section 133 of Trumpcare reveals the key provision that will decimate young people and their economic standing. In lieu of the penalty that the ACA imposed upon the uninsured, the Republican replacement requires insurance companies to charge an uninsured person a flat penalty that amounts to 30 percent of their annual premium total for the next year. This penalty would fall upon those who go without “continuous coverage” for 63 days or longer. In other words, if you were paying $500 a month for coverage and something happened — a move, job upheaval, mounting financial burdens — your penalty would be close to $2,000 for the subsequent year, on top of your regular premiums.

By drastically hiking the individual penalty for going uncovered... the Republican health care replacement is designed to intimidate millennials into ponying up for insurance policies to avoid a lapse in coverage.

The fiscal rationale for imposing such outrageous penalties is simple: Millennials still aren't buying health insurance en masse. (The price tag, already insurmountable for many during the pre-Trump era, is a deterrent.) Insurance companies need young customers to balance the costs of covering older Americans who are more likely to get sick.

But this handout comes at the expense of an entire generation’s shot at prosperity and even solvency. There is no demographic in America at greater risk of being decimated by the continuous coverage penalties than millennials. As many have observed, millennials change jobs and relocate more than any generation in recent memory, both of which carry the risk of health coverage gaps. And as we’ve already addressed, most millennials aren’t sitting on the kind of money one would need to pay an AHCA penalty without potentially life-altering hardship.

It may be tempting for boomers and Gen X-ers to dismiss the danger that young people will face if the AHCA is signed into law, out of indifference to millennials or resentment towards those who didn’t vote for the Democrat last November. But shrugging off the future of millennials will eventually come at a grave price for older Americans. Other than paltry social security checks, our society guarantees virtually nothing for retirees. The expenses of retirement — assisted living, in particular — must be paid for by someone else. According to experts, the average boomer is in no position to foot those bills independently. If Trumpcare becomes law, their kids won’t be much help, either.

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Miles Howard Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Miles Howard is a writer and researcher. His latest book is The Early Voters: Millennials, In Their Own Words, On the Eve of an Historic Election.

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