The XX Factor

23-Year-Olds Aren’t Delusional, They’re Poor

Remind me again why one people between the ages of 18 and 25 don’t have health insurance? Oh, right, because “they are going to live forever and therefore have no use for doctors.” Or so says Tim Noah in this Slate piece griping about how young people might actually catch a break under Sen. Max Baucus’ newly-revealed reform plan.

Noah joins a chorus of other distinguished voices ( Mark Steyn , anyone?) who have claimed-always without evidence, as far as I can tell-that 20-somethings believe they are immortal. Apparently there is middle ground on the subject of health care reform, and it consists of deriding young people for being such careless fools.

Does it not occur to these wise old gentlemen that some uninsured youngsters would very much like to be covered, but the unfortunate realities of our economy make buying coverage practically impossible? Despite Ben Bernanke’s cheery assessment of the recession, job markets are still tight, and graduates are grabbing whatever jobs they can, be they part-time, freelance, or with small companies that don’t offer benefits. Individual coverage is prohibitively expensive for a lot of young people who, when they are booted from their parents’ insurance, often have little in the way of savings and a lot in the way of debt.

Noah complains that Baucus gave a gift to insurance companies by creating an option for a cheap catastrophic-injury plan for young people only. Insurance companies “will see this as a fantastically profitable opportunity to sell health insurance to people who almost never get sick.” But if this sort of plan is a gift to insurance companies, it’s an absolute godsend to young people, who will be able to insure themselves against freak accidents but won’t have to spend a quarter of the rent every month to pay for services they don’t need.

Noah’s right that exempting young people from full coverage will make health insurance more expensive for people over the age of 25. But no one stays under 25. At some point, we’ll all have to start kicking in for full coverage. Then, our own costs will be higher than if the current crop of under-25-year-olds were forced to buy complete coverage. Baucus’ plan doesn’t insure me forever at the expense of Noah and Steyn. It creates a brief window during which young people can get their financial feet under them and find a full-time gig, without having to worry about getting hit by a $40,000 bill if they get hit by a bus.