Helicopter parent power



Between now and November, millions of keystrokes will be devoted here and elsewhere to speculation about the midterm election results - even though, particularly seven months out, it's largely a useless exercise. I well recall that, back in March of 2006, nearly everyone in my line of work was convinced that one big issue in the '06 midterms would be the Bush administration's ill-fated attempt to sell the shipping operations at six U.S. seaports to a United Arab Emirates company...yet the so-called "Dubai deal," and its alleged security implications, was dead as a political issue by the time the trees were in bloom.

No doubt the enactment of health care reform is wayyy bigger than the Dubai deal, but I can't begin to guess how it will feed into the mix with everything else - the jobless rate, the progress (or lack of it) on financial reform, energy reform, education reform, plus the various ethics/corruption scandals, the two wars, and whatever major and ephemeral developments we can't even begin to conjure.

Nevertheless, it's clear that if the Democrats hope to at least minimize the losses that traditionally plague ruling parties in midterm elections, they'll need to relentlessly sell the promised benefits of health care reform - aiming their mantra at the swing voters who are wondering what's in it for them. Many of these benefits are slated to kick in this September (the Democrats who wrote the law were well aware of the midterm election calendar), and it's no accident that the goodies seem particularly tailored for the upscale suburban voters who already have health insurance.

For instance, the helicopter parents.

One reform provision - which, until recently, got little attention - allows mom and dad to keep their kids on the family insurance plan until age 26, regardless of the young adults' marital or work status. If the parents want it this way, the health insurance companies are required to go along.

Policywise, this is huge. Young adults aren't faring particularly well during this deep recession; many are jobless, or work at jobs (or multiple jobs) without health benefits. Nearly 14 million Americans aged 19 to 29 reportedly lack health insurance - roughly 30 percent of the nationwide uninsured population. That might not seem like a big deal, since young adults generally don't require a lot of health care; on the other hand, an '09 study by the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund found that 15 percent of young adults have arthritis, asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease or hypertension. More than half are overweight (why should they be any different?). And, in 2008, one of every four emergency-room patients was a newbie grownup aged 18 to 29.

Jokewise, of course, this health reform benefit is rich in possibilities - about how the slacker generation, thanks to Obama, now has a new excuse to move back home, veg on the sofa, and zone out with Wii - that kind of thing.

Samuel Jacobs, a young adult essayist at The Daily Beast, recently wrote (with tongue partially in cheek) that, after all the anxieties of trying to go forth into the world in the midst of a recession, "now, at last, comes a season to chill. The safety net of social welfare has grown tighter, stretching from sea to shining sea like a giant hammock, providing this generation a much-needed map. Mom and dad, you owe us...Thanks to Obama, we'll be waiting on the couch waiting for you when you get home" from work.

The thing is, most young adults historically don't bother to vote in midterm elections anyway, so whatever gratitude they may feel about the health coverage perk probably won't translate into a Democratic boon at the polls. Their parents, however, are another story. Many may welcome this particular benefit.

Helicopter parents - those who hover incessantly over their adult kids' lives, to the point of advocating for the kids by phoning the kids' employers - are now a fixture in our culture, an army of millions. As policy scholar and former White House aide William Galston recently told the press, "The continuing relationship between parents and young adult children is a really momentous change in the operational meaning of being a parent in the early 21st century. No one resists or resents it. Young people expect it."

And helicopter parents expect to keep hovering, because it's virtually a state of mind; with the age-26 proviso, the Democratic reform law will supply some extra fuel to keep them aloft. Seriously, pandering to the self-interest of the helicopter electorate should be a strong Democratic priority between now and November, a staple of the party's daily message.

All snarkiness aside, these parents may well be happy that Obama has given them a new way to financially shelter their young adults during these tough economic times - and to better shield themselves from the kinds of out-of-pocket medical expenses they might incur when the adult kid goes comatose in the great room after a marathon viewing of Jersey Shore...

OK, almost all snarkiness aside.