Now that the House has passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act, Americans are faced with the increasingly real possibility of health care reform.
The Senate’s version of the bill will face extensive changes before it is ultimately made law. Nevertheless, based on the current plan it is possible to predict that, although health care probably won’t change significantly for USC students, it could change the way Californians view health care.
Students can expect to remain relatively insulated from the reforms while they are still in school. Californians, however, will be facing a significant rise in the costs of their general policies, as well as rising taxes for Medicare and general income.
And although students may feel safe now, the reality is that our age demographic will be footing the bill for the majority of the nation’s health care services in the coming decades.
In all fairness, young people too should ultimately benefit from these adjustments. Yet for those who were hoping to enjoy high salaries and low taxes in the coming years, such changes will be far less welcome. Buying health insurance now could help students, and the nation, in the long run.
USC Professor Glenn Melnick, an expert in public policy and health insurance system design, estimates that USC’s health provisions for students are unlikely to change because of this reform.
“Bottom line: This law probably won’t change anything for students,” Melnick said.
Melnick posited that there’s a good chance things will change for students after graduation.
“The way the law is written now, young people in particular will have to pay higher premiums to pay for older people’s pre-existing conditions, making premiums much higher than they used to be,” he said. “So probably people’s salaries are going to drop as employers have to pay these higher premiums. This amounts to a tax on young people and it may be more equitable to fix this problem by changing the tax code than by burying it in health insurance regulations.”
Of course young people won’t want their salaries to drop, especially in an economy that’s already depressing wages. But if this reform is going to provide coverage for those most in need — those with pre-existing conditions — a financial sacrifice by the majority is worth it.
Besides, the new system should provide significant benefits to young people as well. For those on the lower end of the income spectrum, the sliding-scale income subsidy, set to help individuals and families purchase their own health insurance, could be hugely beneficial.
“The reality is that insurance is not a good deal for young people, especially if you’re trying to choose between paying rent and buying health insurance,” said USC Professor Dana Goldman, an expert in health care reform. “The point of the subsidies is to encourage them to buy health insurance.”
In this case, young adults will benefit from the government’s new agenda of providing coverage for every American.
And getting young people insured could also significantly help the state budget.
“The problem is that young healthy people often don’t buy insurance, and then if there’s a catastrophic event, it gets picked up by the public sector. The goal should be to get these people into the insurance pool,” Goldman said. “In general it’s not a very good deal economically to buy insurance when you’re young, but from a social perspective it’s important.”
In California, this is a particularly compelling issue, where so much of state revenue is used to cover emergency procedures for the uninsured. It remains to be seen whether or not this coverage will apply to those living in the country illegally or on temporary visas.
In the coming years, the younger generation can expect to pay more on health insurance than any other generation in American history.
Yet perhaps, for the first time, young Americans will be able to take pride in a nation that provides the best medical care in the world — for everyone.
Rosaleen O’Sullivan is a junior majoring in English and international relations. Her column, “Global Grind,” runs Mondays.