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Health Care: Getting Serious About Generational Equity


I called 1-800-ROCK-VOTE as soon as I found out that the MTV-linked advocacy group, Rock the Vote, had kicked off an educational campaign on health care.

It's about time someone targeted young people's concerns on the issue, I thought as I dialed. President Clinton's proposal for an unprecedented government takeover of the private health-care industry has had me seeing red for over a year. Now I could finally talk heart-to-heart and mind-to-mind to a peer about ClintonCare's flaws.

But after I patiently endured a very hip, five-minute message, an automated voice promised to mail a free "Rock the System" manual chock full of factoids and shiny pictures in three to five weeks.

And click -- that was that.

Oh, well. What do you expect from the folks who tried to raise voter turnout among young people in 1992 by wrapping Madonna in an American flag?

Don't get me wrong. The Rock the System campaign, which is poised to reach 26 million voting-age Americans under 25 through public service television and print ads, is a step in the right direction toward raising awareness.

But it's a very small and superficial step toward raising the level of public debate about health-care reform and its impact on young workers. Consider some of the ads that began airing last week:

"Look, I'm not stupid. I need to know what's going on," says one young woman with a large metal stud pierced in the middle of her bottom lip. "Even if you want to know what's going on with this health-care thing, it's hard to find out, and that makes it really hard to get involved."

"Right now there are politicians who are making decisions about our future, our health and the money in our pockets, and they're not talking to us about it first," complains a young man replete with dreadlocks and a tattooed forearm.

These snappy monologues by Generation X caricatures may pique the interests of the apathetic Beavis and Butt-head set, but young working stiffs in search of a more sophisticated and engaged discussion are left wanting.

Fortunately, there's another organization out there to pick up where Rock the System falls short. It's called the Third Millennium, and it can be reached at (212) 979-2001.

Two weeks ago, this year-old group weighed in on some of the nitty-gritty details of current health-care reform legislation. At a press conference with a bipartisan group of legislators, Third Millennium's executive director Richard Thau targeted an insidious provision buried in President Clinton's package, as well as other major Democratic alternatives, called "community rating."

The measure calls for all people in a particular community, young and old, rich and poor, to pay the same premium for the same health coverage.

As Mr. Clinton described the system: "If you're a young, single person in your twenties, and you're already insured, your rates may go up somewhat because you're going to go into a big pool with middle-aged people and older people."

If everyone had equal needs and placed equal pressures on the system, this might be a pool worth swimming in. But as Mr. Thau notes: "We tax the system less, therefore we should pay less for health care."

Mr. Thau draws an appropriate analogy to car insurance. Young adults have to pay more for auto insurance because they have more accidents.

The same reasoning should be used for health care -- people over 50 use much more of it than do those in their 20s. According to Congressional Budget Office statistics, the typical 25-year-old uses about $1,000 per year in health-care services compared with $3,500 for a 60-year-old.

Now, I don't object to contributing some of my hard-earned tax dollars toward a safety net for the truly needy.

But why should any young person, with ,15l little disposable income, be forced to subsidize the health care of a middle-age adult at the peak of his or her earning power?

The devastating impact of community rating on young workers isn't some hyped-up chimera. This year the effects were crystal clear in New York state, which recently adopted the most unforgiving community-rating system in the country.

Before the plan kicked in, the average 30-year-old single male paid a $1,200 premium; afterward, that premium soared to $3,240. Young families saw their premiums double. Only one age group benefited from the scheme -- those over 50. An average 60-year-old male saw his premium cut nearly in half.

Good for him. But does the trade-off -- pricing entry-level workers out of the health-care market -- make sound health policy sense?

Opposition to community rating is more than a selfish whim of some whining twentysomethings. Fiscal conservatives on both sides of the aisle -- Reps. Gary Condit, D-Calif.; Tim Penny, D-Minn.; Harris Fawell, R-Ill.; and Robert Livingston, R-La. -- have all joined Third Millennium's campaign to ensure generational equity in health-care reform, as well as in other public-policy areas. This isn't just about us. It's about our children and their children.

Groups like Third Millennium and politicians like Rep. Penny (who is retiring this year) are hard to find and harder to hold.

As young voters head to the polls in crucial elections this November, they should turn to bona fide advocates for the future -- not to the posers.

Michelle Malkin is a columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News, from which this is reprinted.

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