Organizers for NextGen America have noticed something surprising while working in Florida to register young people to vote in the Nov. 6 midterm election:
Young people are passionate about health care.
NextGen first opened a Florida chapter in September 2017 with a $3.5 million investment by American billionaire Tom Steyer. When this week’s voter registration deadline arrived in Florida, organizers had already registered over 50,000 young people to vote.
For the roughly 29,000 people who filled out surveys for NextGen Florida about the issues that would motivate them to vote in November, making health care accessible and more affordable came in as the second most frequently cited issue. The first was the cost of attending a public college or university.
That’s a new trend, Florida State University political science professor Carol Weissert, said. Health care tends to be an older person’s issue.
“Younger people are pretty healthy,” said Weissert, who is 70. “So, they don’t generally worry about issues like health insurance.”
But Florida does have a large uninsured population. In 2016, the state ranked third after Texas and Oklahoma in the number of people without health insurance, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 18 percent of Floridians between the ages of 18 and 64 don’t have health insurance.
For Deidra Rogers, 22, a University of South Florida graduate, health care is personal.
Rogers joined NextGen in January and has been working as a field organizer registering USF students on campus since May.
When Rogers was 12, her hair started to fall out, and her family was mystified. The day before Rogers turned 13, she learned that she had lupus, an autoimmune disease that can be treated but has no cure.
“I was just really terrified most of the time dealing with it,” Rogers said.
Last year, Rogers found out her diagnosis was systemic, meaning it affects organs throughout her whole body.
“One day I can wake up and I can be fine, and another day I’ll wake up and my body’s in pain,” Rogers said. “The only thing that’s consistent is fatigue, and then because of the steroids, I’ve gained all this weight.”
Rogers’s parents are divorced, and her father deals with his own chronic illness, so it’s easier to live on her mom’s health insurance, Rogers said. This is true for many young people who can stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26 thanks to the federal Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.
But that provision is under attack as Republicans try and repeal the ACA, Weissert notes. And because Gov. Rick Scott elected not to expand Medicaid into the state, many people – especially the state’s most vulnerable – are left with few options for care.
Rogers lives in Tampa and travels to Miami every month for treatment. She said her co-pay is $100, her medication costs about $80, and she also has to get IV infusions. Her insurance does not cover the cost of her travel, but Rogers said she knows that without insurance, her costs could easily spiral into the tens of thousands for medication and treatment alone.
People shouldn’t have to make a choice between eating or getting their medication, she said.
“It’s so frustrating,” Rogers said. “Having health care is a right.”
Jeremiah Chapman, 29, is the director of Black Lives Rising, a NextGen initiative to increase African-American voter turnout in the midterm elections. He was in Florida at the end of September for an event on Tallahassee’s Florida A&M University, one of four Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the state.
He said he’s been surprised at how well-versed students are when they talk about health care. He guesses it’s because they’re seeing their family members affected by chronic illnesses and pre-existing conditions and struggling to navigate the health care system.
“Usually, black communities are at a disadvantage as it relates to health care just because of a lack of generational wealth and a lack of insurance,” Chapman said.
But Chapman said he thinks health care has become more popular because people have started to understand it in what he calls a “cultural-emotional” context.
“I think it’s because they see it so much in the news with these attacks on Obamacare and, just the fact that it’s even called Obamacare as they’ve grown up,” Chapman said. “So, we see that that consistent messaging as Obamacare has attracted their attention or helped them become more educated about health care as a particular topic or issue over time.”
Although health care is clearly on young people’s minds, FSU professor Weissert still doesn’t think it will be a deciding issue in the Nov. 6 elections. She said problems with the state’s polluted environment – especially with dead fish piling up on South Florida beaches – will likely matter more to voters.
“I know that (Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew) Gillum is saying ‘Medicare for All,’ and maybe” that will resonate, Weissert said, adding that the field of issues of concern to Floridians is crowded. In the topic of health care alone, she said: “There’s a federal role, and there’s a state role, and then there’s Obamacare and there’s Medicaid – and it’s just very complicated.”
“A lot of the younger generation are taking jobs that don’t have health care coverage,” she added. “There’s a tendency now to be contract workers and not have jobs that necessarily provide health care benefits, so that could be a reason as well – particularly for the older group.”
Ultimately, the conclusion is pretty simple: “They are not getting health care coverage,” she said, “so they are worried about health insurance.”