February 4, 2010

Millennials’ Lukewarm Support For Health Care Bills

Many Are Uninsured Yet Most Are Unengaged

The MillenialsThis is part of a Pew Research Center series of reports exploring the behaviors, values and opinions of the teens and twenty-somethings that make up the Millennial Generation

Millennials may stand to gain more from an expansion of government health insurance than people in any other age group. Fully a third (33%) of those younger than age 30 say they are not covered by health insurance; that compares with 19% of those in Generation X, and smaller percentages of Baby Boomers (12%) and those in the Silent Generation (3%).

Yet Millennials’ support for the health care proposals before Congress has been lukewarm at best. Millennials do favor many of the individual components in these proposals — for example, 65% favor the so-called “public option.” But small percentages of young people expect their own health care or insurance coverage to improve if health care legislation passes. And as is typically the case with major policy issues, 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.

In the Pew Research Center’s most recent survey, conducted in early January, fewer than half (47%) of Millennials (those younger than age 30) said they generally favored the health care proposals being discussed in Congress, while 36% were opposed.

To be sure, older age groups were even less supportive of the health care bills before Congress: Among Gen X, the Baby Boomers and Silent Generation, there was more opposition than support for the proposals; majorities of Baby Boomers (52%) and members of the Silent Generation (54%) opposed the health care bills.

There have been only modest changes in opinions about health care legislation — either among the general public or across age categories — since the summer. About as many Millennials said they supported the proposals in January (47%) as did so last July (44%). Support for the bills has remained fairly steady among older people as well.

Support for Bills’ Elements

Pew Research Center surveys in July and October found that the public was more supportive of the individual elements of health care bills than of the legislation itself. This was the case for all age groups, including Millennials.

In particular, Millennials broadly favored two of the bills’ proposals that potentially could impact people who currently lack health insurance coverage: the requirement that all Americans have insurance, with the government providing help for those unable to afford it, and a government health insurance plan to compete with private plans.

Sizable majorities across all age groups favored the requirement that all Americans have insurance — the so-called individual mandate. But Millennials and Gen Xers were much more supportive of a government health insurance plan — the so-called public option — than were Baby Boomers or those in the Silent Generation.

In both July and October, clear majorities of Millennials favored the public option (61% July, 65% October); most Gen Xers also supported the public option (57%, 60% respectively). But opinion was more mixed among older age groups: In October, just 51% of Boomers and 40% of those in the Silent Generation favored a government health insurance plan to compete with private plans.

Little Personal Benefit Seen

However, as is the case with older Americans, most Millennials do not expect their own health care to improve if the legislation before Congress becomes law. Perhaps equally important, relatively few expect that their ability to obtain health insurance — if they lose a job or change jobs — to get better if the measure passes.

In January, just a third of Millennials (33%) said their ability to get insurance if they lose a job or change jobs would get better if the legislation becomes law; comparable percentages of Gen Xers (39%) and Baby Boomers (38%) said the same. Just 14% of those in the Silent Generation — most of whom are covered by Medicare — expected their ability to get coverage would improve under these circumstances.

About a quarter (24%) of those under age 30 said the quality of care would get better, which is somewhat higher than the percentage of older Americans saying their care would improve. More Millennials than older Americans also said they expected their out-of-pocket health care costs to improve if legislation becomes law; but as many Millennials said their out-of-pocket costs would get worse (34%) as said they would get better (33%) if a health care bill becomes law.

Wide Age Gap in Engagement, Knowledge

When the health care debate began in earnest last summer, Millennials were far less likely than older Americans to say they had heard a lot about the health care proposals before Congress. The gap in engagement remained about as large six months later.

In January, only about a quarter (27%) of those younger than age 30 said they heard a lot about the issue. That compared with 44% of Gen Xers and majorities of Baby Boomers (54%) and those in the Silent Generation (58%). These percentages have changed only modestly since July.

Moreover, young people are far less likely than those in older age groups to know facts about health care legislation and the legislative process. In Pew Research’s news quiz last fall, just 40% of Millennials knew that the public option being discussed in Congress dealt with health care; clear majorities in older age groups answered this question correctly. In the most recent news quiz, released Jan. 28, few Americans could correctly answer two questions relating to the Senate’s consideration of health care legislation. Just 32% knew that the Senate bill passed without a single Republican vote and even fewer (26%) knew that it takes 60 Senate votes to break a filibuster.

Millennials fared even worse on these questions than did older Americans. Just 16% of those younger than 30 knew that the Senate bill passed with no GOP votes and 14% answered the filibuster question correctly. Those were by far the lowest percentages for any age group.