That noise you heard Tuesday morning, following President Obama’s signing health-care reform into law, was the sound of a million futons opening up throughout the land as recession-strapped college grads returned home. They’ll soon be moving back in with mom and dad, sleeping easy knowing that come September, they will be able to re-join their parents’ health-insurance plan.
At least one young man looked up from his Bloomberg terminal down on Wall Street to savor the moment and think about the possibility of walking out the door.
“I think the real meaning of the 26-and-out provision of health care is to make it easier for kids to leave home,” said one father. “They can give their folks their premium bill and go live on the cheap.”
“A lack of health insurance was the only thing that motivated me to get a job out of college," one first-year analyst who works at a New York City bank told me. "Without that impetus, I would have been perfectly happy lounging on the couch, watching Golden Girls reruns. I mean, if I choke on the pretzels, I'm covered."
Call them Obama’s slackers. Kids, just out of college but not yet past that golden age of 26, have just been given quite a gift by this president. We are the go-go generation, the dime store sociologists have proclaimed, reacting against our “tune in, drop out” parents. We’re more akin spiritually to our grandparents, who arrived during the Great Depression and came of age during World War II. September 11th chastened our exuberance. Graduating into the Great Recession only added to the sense of Sisyphean striving. Now, at last, comes a season to chill. The safety net of social welfare has grown tighter, stretching from sea to shining sea like a giant hammock, providing this generation a much-needed nap.
Mom and Dad, you owe us. Michele Bachmann says so. When quizzed by Larry King last week about what Americans without health insurance should do, the Minnesota Republican had simple advice: Get a job. “Part of being responsible parents,” Bachmann said, is “getting a job that offers health insurance.” So keep on with the 9-to-5, Mom and Dad. Thanks to Obama, we’ll be on the couch waiting for you when you get home.
Not everybody think it’s funny. A 23-year-old interning at a New York City museum without pay told me about the happiness that comes with knowing she now will be able to visit the dentist without worrying over how to pay for it.
“The health-care bill comes at a good time for recent college grads like myself, who found getting a job of any kind, much less one with benefits, a significant challenge,” she said. Still, there’s clearly a bit of a stigma attached, at least in this young woman’s mind. “God, just don't let me be 26 and on my parent's health-care plan,” she said.
Indeed, extending health-care coverage to college and high-school graduates who have struggled to find work, or have found jobs that don’t provide benefits, stitches up one of the nastier gashes in our health-care system. In 2008, the Commonwealth Fund reported that there were 13.7 million Americans, aged 19 to 29, without health insurance. (Around 46 million Americans are uninsured.) Two out of five high-school graduates and one-third of college graduates have gone without health coverage at some point. Fortunately, the folks in this age range tend to have fewer serious health problems than their much older—and much younger—counterparts. But for those who do get sick or injured without insurance, the Obamacare provision offers serious relief.
One empty-nester, the father of a recent college grad from outside Washington, D.C., said he didn’t expect extending health-care coverage would bring faces back to the dinner table.
“I’m not worried about that,” he told me. “My eldest never came home, my second ran off to Europe, and my third shows no inclination of returning home, at least until 1 or 2 a.m. at the earliest.”
In fact, he said he thought the new plan would help get kids off the couch.
“I think the real meaning of the 26-and-out provision of health care is to make it easier for kids to leave home. They can give their folks their premium bill and go live on the cheap. Social Security let my parents live independently and now health care will do the same for my kids.”
We’ll see about that, Pops.
Samuel P. Jacobs is a staff reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic Online.