Many supporters of the Affordable Care Act, including myself, lament the fact that the new law doesn’t completely go into effect until 2014, making it difficult for Obama to run on the actual achievement of near-universal health care. Research shows that most of the opposition to the ACA comes not from actual dislike of the law so much as ignorance of what it actually does, leading supporters to believe that once it’s in effect, Americans will like it as much as citizens of other nations with similar health care laws like theirs. But for one group of people, benefits are already being seen. They happen to be a group that the Obama campaign needs to turn out to the polls in order to win: voters ages 18 to 26.
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that the percentage of uninsured young adults in America strongly declined between 2010 and 2011, and the main reason appears to be the ACA, specifically the provision allowing parents to keep their children on their insurance until they turn 26. While uninsured rates went up slightly for people ages 26 to 35, they fell steeply with the early 20s crew, from 33.9 percent of people ages 19 to 25 in 2010 to 27.9 percent in 2011. The net gain for that age group was 1.6 million gaining insurance coverage. But the potential electoral benefits to Obama from promising to keep the law in place and therefore their insurance coverage extends beyond just those young people. After all, those newly insured young adults also have parents and stepparents who are grateful for the opportunity to keep their kids insured, meaning you may even be able to triple the number of people who feel directly impacted by this new policy.
It’s clear the Obama campaign sees the early to mid 20s set as key to their victory, and not just because of the numbers of insurance plans, but also the quality of them. The forefronting of the contraception mandate during the Democratic National Convention—-while partially about sending conservatives into shockingly sex-phobic tirades—-was also about making a direct appeal to younger voters to turn out to the polls. While conservative pundits run around poo-poohing the idea that contraception access is that big a deal or that expensive, for the under-25 set, continuous and affordable access to contraception is a primary health and life concern. This isn’t just about women, either; few men under 25 are really that interested in dealing with the heavy issues of unintended pregnancy. This is a period of one’s life where getting a regular gynecologist and getting onto a steady contraception regime is surprisingly hard to do; I must have changed doctors and clinics 5 or 6 times in my early 20s, based on the vagaries of insurance and employment. Turning this chaotic and often expensive part of life into one that’s a little steadier and much cheaper is the sort of thing that can look unimportant to older voters, but feel like a big relief to younger ones. The hope, clearly, is that they will take that relief and reward Obama for it at the polls.