Grow Up, Republicans: Rethinking the “Slacker” Mandate

My generation needs jobs, not the Democrats’ harmful and patronizing “Stay on your parents’ health insurance till you’re 26” mandate.

Recent news reports suggest some congressional Republicans are terrified the public will be angry with them if they don’t re-enact certain supposedly “good” parts of ObamaCare, in the event that the Supreme Court strikes down ObamaCare later this month.

The mandate most frequently mentioned as worthy of preservation is the so-called “slacker” mandate. That’s the one that lets you stay on your parents’ health insurance until you turn 26. Specifically, Section 2714(a) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandates that: 

[H]ealth insurance coverage that provides dependent coverage of children shall continue to make such coverage available for an adult child (who is not married) until the child turns 26 years of age.

Before ObamaCare, employer-sponsored health plans generally covered dependent children until they turned 18 or graduated from college. Now they must cover them till they turn 26. 

Thanks, but this is one kind of “help” my generation doesn’t need. What we need is jobs.

As my graduation date looms closer, it’s hard to ignore some terrifying statistics about our current economy. Studies have shown that every 1 in 2 new college graduates will be underemployed or won’t find a job at all, and national unemployment is at a staggering 8.2%. With all these figures in mind, one might imagine that the President would be focusing on economic growth, creating jobs, and encouraging businesses to expand and grow through various incentives. 

Instead, on top of his failed economic policies, Mr. Obama is touting (and Republicans are apparently afraid to leave repealed) this piece of his massive healthcare overhaul, which would further harm the economy, the job market, and young adults: the slacker mandate. 

Think about that for a minute. At 26 years old, I’ll be four years out of college. I’ll be able to rent a car. I’ll be a quarter of a century old. And, according to Obama, I’ll be unable to financially provide for myself and still utterly dependent on my parents. 

The arguments for the under-26 mandate are loud and popular among young adults and Democrats. In this economic climate, why shouldn’t we provide a little security for our youth? It’s heartless, they cry, to let young adults go uninsured when they can’t get a job with health benefits, or any job at all.

I must admit, I sympathize. It’s certainly easier for me to stay on my parents’ plan after I graduate until I can find stable work. However, there’s a much better solution than this mandate, and it starts with realizing some difficult truths about government intervention. 

For starters, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and there’s certainly no such thing as free health care. It’s been estimated that the under-26 mandate would increase insurance premiums anywhere from 1 to 3% annually. Though that doesn’t seem like much, let’s consider some actual figures. As reported in a new Joint Economic Committee report, an average annual premium in 2011 for an employer sponsored insurance plan was $15,073. An increase of 1-3% would increase that premium $151-$452 per year. 

From a business perspective, a several hundred dollar increase per employee can quickly and easily add up. As a result of rising health care costs, these employers may decide to hire less, give fewer raises, or even drop health benefits entirely. 

It seems this mandate would lead us into a vicious cycle. Democrats argue that health insurance costs too much for young adults, so they must be able to stay on their parents’ plan. But when Mom & Dad’s plan gets more expensive for their employer, that employer will be hesitant to hire more employees. Thus the very problem we’re trying to avoid, young adults without jobs and without health insurance, is in fact worsened by this mandate. 

Leaving aside jobs and the economy, the under-26 mandate cannot even solve the problem it was meant to solve. Supporters of ObamaCare commonly point out that the highest number of uninsured Americans are under the age of 35, and champion the under-26 mandate as a way to ensure coverage for this group. Although 86% of this group reports themselves to be in good or excellent health, Democrats still maintain that they need health coverage. They repeatedly preach the virtues of “universal coverage”, and take any measures necessary to achieve that goal.

There’s one problem. We’ve seen mandates like this before, and they haven’t resulted in universal coverage among the supposedly “helped” demographic.

New Jersey has a mandate for employers to provide coverage for dependents up to 30 years old. When it was first being discussed, supporters argued that it would help insure 100,000 adults. In the two years since its passage, barely 6% of that estimate has been reached. 

This problem goes even further. The aforementioned JEC report notes that every 1% increase in premiums increases the number of uninsured by 200,000-300,000 people nationwide. These people are either priced out of the individual  market, or dropped by their employer due to the higher costs. 

It’s politically popular and easy to talk about safety nets and support for our youth, without really thinking about the consequences. Not only does the under-26 mandate create financial incentives for young people to avoid real careers (in the words of Nancy Pelosi, giving them time to “leave your work” and “go be creative and be a musician or whatever”), it supports the same economic policies that negatively impact businesses, and thus, workers. 

When Republicans begin thinking about their own health care reform plans, they’d be wise to focus on supporting the economy and creating jobs, not taking them away by encouraging youth to remain dependent. 


FreedomWorks’ Health Care Strategy Memos

FreedomWorks: Our Favorite Bills to Replace ObamaCare

The Facts Behind the Under-26 Mandate

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