Sunday, May 03, 2009


A reader from Orange County, Calif., is perplexed. A friend of hers has two children, and paid to send them to private schools from the time they were in preschool through their high-school years.

Now the friend is footing the college tuition for each child. Neither of the children has been required to hold even a part-time job while in college. The older child has earned some money from paid internships, but none of this money has been used to defray any of her education or living costs.

The mother continues to pay all expenses for each child, my reader writes, including "modest but brand-new cars, trips to Europe, the latest electronic gadgets and just about anything they may need or want."

My reader hastens to add that her friend and her friend's husband have worked very hard to provide for their children.

"Both kids are very nice, very respectful, and have never been in any kind of trouble," she writes. "So, while I would consider them privileged, I would not say that they are spoiled."

So where's the problem?

The daughter will soon graduate from college. Her mother is worried that, because of the current job market, she will not be able to find a job immediately after she graduates. Once she is no longer a full-time student, the daughter will not be covered by her parents' health-care plan.

"My friend is considering having her daughter apply for Medi-Cal," my reader writes, "rather than purchasing a private health-care plan for her daughter."

Medi-Cal is the state's Medicaid program that provides health-care coverage for low-income people, and my reader can't understand why, after spending so much money making sure that her children have the best of everything, she would consider drawing the line when it comes to their health care.

The answer, apparently, is simple economy: As we all know, health-care costs are high and rising, and her friend would rather not foot this particular bill.

My reader doubts that her friend will go the Medi-Cal route, but wonders whether I see any problem, from an ethical perspective, with her even considering it.

If the daughter qualifies for Medi-Cal, there is nothing ethically wrong with her applying for the coverage. Simply having lived a "privileged" life while under the care of her parents does not mean that she will never have to find her own way in the world, financially or otherwise. It's fair to assume that, even if she immediately finds a job, it won't be a high-income one, at least for awhile.

There's nothing in my reader's letter to suggest that the friend plans to continue showering her daughter with fancy electronics, new cars and trips to Europe. If she is planning to do that, then her daughter will not truly be low-income, so Medi-Cal would be inappropriate. Otherwise, there's no reason that the low-income daughter of high-income parents shouldn't take advantage of a program for low-income people.

Her parents might have considered easing their daughter's transition to self-sufficiency by asking her to contribute something toward her expenses during the course of her college career. But there is no ethical imperative that dictates how far parents should go in supporting their children financially. If they decide to pay for more extensive health-care coverage for her, or to lend her the money to enable her to do so for herself, that's OK. So is telling their daughter that, once she's out of college, she's on her own financially.

That these parents have been able to rear two respectful kids speaks well of their parenting skills. The right thing for them to do now, as their daughter prepares to graduate from college, is to speak with her about the responsibilities she will face as an independent adult and to lay out the options available to her. That's the kind of help that any good parent should offer and that any child should cherish.

c.2009 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Bill Jacobson said...

I'm not certain there is an ethical dilemma with the kids or parents, Jeffrey. Surely the point of the parents' excessive generosity through college was to help prepare their kids for the real world but not insisting that their little birds get a job to start their job experience and build responsibility was probably a mistake. That mistake is now coming home to roost as the little birds attempt to leave the nest.

Taking responsibility for one's own life is something that needs to develop gradually and these kids are in for a bit of a reality shock. I do not envy them in competing in a tough job market with their schoolmates having six years more work experience under their belts. Degrees are important but a well developed work ethic is more important.

Should they take Medi-Cal? If they qualify and they need it then by all means but this dilemma should not be any more a surprise than if they had ill-prepared their kids for college.

I do however stop to ponder the ethical dilemma of airing your friend's ethical missteps publicly on a nationally read & syndicated column. Definitely unethical on that score.

William Jacobson, esq.
Cypress, CA

Anonymous said...

Welfare for the poor, long as it's temporary. Welfare for those truly unable to work, certainly: as a society, we should take care of those who are truly disabled. Welfare for the wealthy, not okay. I define welfare for the wealthy as subsidizing trips disguised as education for doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians, bureaucrats, executives, etc. I further define welfare for the wealthy as subsidizing hazard insurance for owners of multi-million dollar beach houses, and aid to "farmers" who earn millions from taxpayers who earn far less. There are many forms of welfare for the well-to-do and the wealthy, and we all know what the list comprises.

This question is about taking care of your this case, adults taking care of adult children who can't find a job in their chosen fields of study. I would suggest these parents take care of their children, or advise the adult children to find jobs that do offer some kind of medical insurance.

These children of privilege might benefit from some form of work other than professional work. Teacher's aid, nurse's aid, factory worker, etc. The children could learn much from such work, from close contact with people who weren't reared with the benefits of things money could buy. Respect for those co-workers could be one benefit.

Failing that, if the parents choose to advise their offspring to apply for and receive Medi-Cal, then they should never again complain about the cost of welfare. Never.

Anonymous said...

I made the Anonymous comment just above, advising the parents to never again complain about the cost if welfare if they choose to advise their offspring to receive Medi-Cal.

Forgot to add - let the adult children find a job - any job - and pay for their own medical insurance. It's fairly inexpensive for healthy young people.

If we are tired of so many people with their hands out, if we are tired of ever-increasing taxes for those with their hands out, then we must not join them! We must not take the easy road.....and if we do take the easy road, then we are joining those who no longer believe in personal responsibility.

Anonymous said...

I posed the original question. At this point, Mom is researching private healthcare plans.

Anonymous said...

I somehow missed William Jacobson's last paragraph when I read his comment months ago. Let me assure you that Mom knew I was writing, she also knew that this column is no longer carried in our local paper and she wanted to know the opinion. So while it appeared unethical, it certainly was not.

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