The White House announced yesterday that over 7 million people had enrolled in insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act. This achievement marks a symbolic victory for the Obama administration, which struggled to meet the self-imposed goal after the turbulent October launch. Throughout the six-month enrollment period, pundits have repeatedly emphasized the importance of youth participation in determining Obamacare’s success. Last month, young adults between 18 and 35 years old accounted for one-fourth of sign-ups, far below the intended 40 percent. The final figure suggests a last-minute boost in youth enrollment, indicating that youth were integral to achieving the target. It remains to be seen if Obamacare will be worth the youth investment.
Given the immense support youth have given President Barack Obama, it would be particularly disappointing if Obamacare failed to deliver on its promises. During election seasons, his campaign held events on college campuses. In 2008, Obama won 66 percent of the youth vote — voters 18 to 29 years old — and in 2012, 60 percent of voters in this age group re-elected him.
Youth support has become closely associated with the Democratic Party in the past 20 years. Since 1992, Democrats have consistently won the youth vote — sometimes by considerable margins. Democrats enjoyed a popular mandate from the country’s youth during both the Clinton and Bush administrations. In Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election, the Democratic Party had a 19-point lead on the Republicans. In 2004, Democratic candidate John Kerry won 56 percent of the youth’s support. The association between America’s youth and the Democratic Party is clear. The success of Obamacare could be a determining factor in whether this support continues.
Despite providing more Americans with affordable health insurance, Obamacare would result in about 2.5 million lost jobs. While many young college graduates already find job searches daunting, the cuts resulting from Obamacare will likely make initial employment even more difficult because employers have fewer opportunities to employ fairly inexperienced workers. As graduate students end their education — at around age 26 — they have to pay for their own health insurance. When added to increased job competition that Obamacare will likely create, the Affordable Care Act could render economic survival as a recent graduate difficult.
Young Americans — who remain largely uninsured — still approve of Obamacare. The participation of youth in health coverage is an important factor in the success of the health insurance marketplace. This demographic tends to be healthier and thus help stabilize insurance premiums. If young adults do not participate in the program, Obamacare’s chances of survival are slim. As such, Obamacare must support youth in the way that youth has supported Obamacare.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, April 2 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]