Supreme Court Obamacare decision: good news for the kids

Health care reforms provide protections they need in new economy

July 04, 2012|Susan Reimer

Nothing will trigger a conservative conversion experience in your children faster than a look at their first paychecks.

When they see how much has been deducted for federal, state and local taxes, they suddenly realize they are against big government, the nanny state and, while they are at it, the filling of potholes.

So it is no surprise that the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act last week restarted the generational conflict over just who is responsible for taking care of whom in the future.

The ACA is an extremely complex attempt at reforming health care, and it will be years before we know whether it succeeded in corralling costs while providing health care insurance for the millions of people who currently have none.

But there are two provisions the mother in me is grateful for: coverage under a parent's policy until the age of 26 and coverage despite a change in employers or a pre-existing condition.

My generation is going to slide safely into Medicare soon, if some of us have not already done so. In any case, many of us have worked for a single employer for 20, 30 or 40 years, and our health care has been assured during our working life.

It isn't going to be that way for our children. And I worry.

A recent issue of the libertarian magazine Reason featured a cover story on "Generational Warfare" and made the case my nephew regularly makes to me. That is, Social Security and Medicare are funded by taxes on the meager wages of his generation, and those same benefits will not be there for them when they retire.

Both should be reformed, the authors argue, to take care of only those who are "too poor or incapacitated to take care of themselves."

Meanwhile, Fast Company, a magazine for techies, describes young people today as members of the "flux generation." The pace of change in the world is so great, the authors argue, that there is no point planning for a future that is changing in the moment.

Our children will have multiple jobs; those jobs will change exponentially even while they are in them; and only those who can live on the balls of their feet will survive. Of course, this is already happening to many older Americans as well. But what we're seeing now is a rapid acceleration of that trend.

Fast Company says today's generation will need "a mindset that embraces instability, that tolerates and even enjoys recalibrating careers, business models and assumptions."

In other words, there is no longer a gold watch waiting at the end of a long and stable career. No guarantee of a pension, or health care coverage in retirement, or generous survivor benefits for spouses.

That's the other reason I was grateful for the Supreme Court decision.

Insurance coverage for my children's generation need no longer be employer-based. And that's a good thing, both because our kids will probably have many employers and because businesses may jettison health care coverage for employees, the same way they ended pension plans.

They will be on their own, forced to find their own health insurance and to save for their own retirement.

It is possible that the Affordable Care Act is deeply flawed — there is nothing like the fine print. But at least there is a framework for reform going forward. If the law had been struck down in its entirety, I don't think our acrimonious Congress would have successfully tackled it again in my lifetime.

But I can rest a little easier knowing that the kids who can't find a toehold in this miserable economy — and health care of their own — can piggyback on mom or dad's policy for a little while longer.

And I am hopeful that as my children hopscotch among employers in an economy that is morphing faster than a flu virus, they will likely have the health insurance they need to protect them from the financial devastation an illness can cause.

My nephew Bill, my pipeline to my children's generation, says that Obamacare will make the government role in our lives vastly greater, and that, in itself, is a very bad idea. Besides, he doesn't think he can trust government to do the job right.

"Why are you so adamant about protecting my generation?" he asked. "You should worry about taking care of yourself."

Bill, I said, it's a mom thing.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. Her email is

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