From rabid flying raccoons and a waterskiing Paul Bunyan to catchy folk jingles and BroSurance, the advertisements promoting ObamaCare across the country have ranged from the vaguely insouciant to the bizarre. Funnily enough, however, nowhere in most of these ads are we treated to an explanation of the new legal reality that could really be one of the most effective means in pushing Americans to sign up for insurance coverage: The individual mandate, anyone?
The New York Times takes note of the almost across-the-board, carrot-over-stick phenomenon going on in the relevant PR campaigns. You’d almost think that people don’t generally respond well to coercion, or something:
The state and federal health insurance exchanges are using all manner of humor and happy talk to sell the Affordable Care Act’s products. But the one part of the new system that they are not quick to trumpet is the financial penalty that Americans will face if they fail to buy insurance.
On state exchange websites, mention of the penalty is typically tucked away under “frequently asked questions,” if it appears at all. Television and print ads usually skip the issue, and operators of exchange telephone banks are instructed to discuss it only if asked. The federal website, now infamous for its glitches, mentions the penalty but also calls it a fee, or an Individual Shared Responsibility Payment. …
State exchange operators say that they are not trying to hide the penalty, but that their market research has taught them that, at least in the initial phase, consumers will be more receptive to soothing messages and appeals to their sense of collective responsibility than to threats of punishment.
“It might be that they want to be positive,” said Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the conservative Cato Institute. “But it’s also the case that an informed customer is not their best customer.”
No kidding. It would hardly do to readily demonstrate to, say, a Young Invincible — working part-time hours/underemployed/unemployed, and/or still living at home, and/or debating whether they really need to have health insurance — that paying the penalty might be their more attractive cost-benefit option, would it?
While the technological rollout of Obama’s signature legislative achievement has left much — much — to be desired, the law’s image is only going to get worse once the website does start running smoothly and more people are hit with the realization that higher premiums will be part and parcel of what is in essence a massive redistribution system.