Study Confirms: Millennials Are Apathetic

That is not an article from The Onion; it's actual, real news.

The Pew Research Center has some new, interesting numbers up on public opinion and health-care reform. The general takeaway is that, while the same numbers of Americans support reform, they're increasingly pessimistic about its odds of passing. It's notable that, despite all the roadblocks in the legislative process, the same number of Americans generally stand behind it.

What I found most interesting was a section on millennials and health care—partially because I'm a millennial who covers health care, partially because it reveals many interesting schisms in my generation's support for reform. Here's the basic rundown from Pew:

Millennials' support for the health care proposals before Congress has been lukewarm at best . . . Small percentages of young people expect their own health care or insurance coverage to improve if health care legislation passes . . . Millennials have largely tuned out of the health care debate: They are far less likely than those in older age groups to report they have heard a lot about the issue.

This is a little strange because, as the report points out, millennials may stand to gain the most from health-care reform, given that a third of us under 30 are not covered—compared with 12 percent of our baby-boomer parents. Moreover, millennials are actually the most likely demographic to support individual elements of the bill, such as universal coverage and a public option.

Another weird schism: millennials are the least likely to "very strongly favor" health-care reform, but they are the most likely to generally favor reform. So we kind of, sort of, care about health-care reform, but don't feel too strongly either way: we're also the least likely to "very strongly oppose" the issue, too.

So millennials stand to gain the most from health care and are most likely to support its core elements, yet are the least likely to know or really care about it. What exactly is going on here? A few things to consider:

Millennials do stand to gain the most in terms of access to affordability of insurance. But our medical costs are generally minuscule compared with those of our parents or grandparents; I can count on one hand the number of doctor's appointments I have had since graduating from college three years ago. Access to affordable insurance does not strike us as a giant gain; we are not generally paying that much to begin with.

The other issue, I think, is the way health insurance has been sold and positioned. In general, we talk about the outcome of health-care reform in two ways: the micro impact on individual citizens and the macro impact on health-care costs. Neither has excited millennials. As I said, the individual impact strikes us as unimpressive. The large-scale economic outcomes take a lot of effort to understand. They seem distant, probably to millennials and the rest of the population, and easy to lose sight of in a Twitter-size news cycle.

Instead, the more attractive part of health insurance for millennials, these poll numbers indicate, is the moral underpinnings of the bill: that all Americans ought to have access to insurance, that this is our responsibility as a nation. While 47 percent of millennials generally support health-care reform, 70 percent support the idea that all Americans should have access to affordable health insurance, the highest number for any demographic. Maybe we're just young and idealistic, maybe we have genuinely different viewpoints than our parents; either way, that provision really strikes a chord with younger Americans. But the bill has not been sold that way—if it had, perhaps more millennials would strongly support health-care reform instead of the kind of, sort of, support we see now.