The Washington Post has a front-page story reporting that young people will pay the most, but also have the most to gain, from liberal health-care legislation. That’s half-right! The reason they supposedly have the most to gain is that they’re the age group most likely to lack health insurance. But a big part of the reason they’re most likely to lack it is that they’re the most likely to conclude that it’s not worth the price. To say that forcing them to buy insurance offers them a net benefit is to say that the government knows their interests better than they do. The report follows the typical formula in describing young people who don’t buy health insurance as “young invincibles”: They don’t buy it because they foolishly think they’re not going to have any health problems.
Maybe instead they assume that they are not likely to have as many medical expenses as insurance will cost them. That’s not at all a foolish assumption, although it is one that involves taking a risk. Maybe they assume that the balance of benefits will change as they grow older and that they’ll get insurance later. That’s not a foolish assumption either.
On a related note, Timothy Noah complains that the Baucus plan allows insurance companies to sell young people cheap catastrophic policies. That supposedly “screw[s]” older people, who don’t get to have young healthy people subsidize them (more) — which makes sense only if the baseline is Noah’s social-democratic preferences. But it’s a peculiar view of the world that considers it a special favor to young people to let their premiums fall because they incur fewer costs.
Noah also writes, “The option is also a sop to insurers, who will see this as a fantastically profitable opportunity to sell health insurance to people who almost never get sick. They are in the position of an ice maker who just found out the government is forcing Eskimos to buy ice cubes.” This claim makes no logical sense even on Noah’s own principles. Would insurance companies rather have young people forced to buy cheap insurance policies or forced to buy expensive ones? The question answers itself. Noah may not like it, but he’s the one who wants more lavish corporate welfare in this instance.