New Obamacare plan: Porta-john ads are gonna get this thing right back on track

Well, the nanny state wants to do everything else for us, why shouldn’t it write the jokes for us, too? Obamacare will be advertised on porta-potties. In an attempt to reach young adults without insurance, that’s just one of the ideas being tossed around by supporters. And, yes, you’re paying for all of this:


In Connecticut, selling Obamacare involves renting an airplane. Oregon might try to reel in hipsters with branded coffee cups for their lattes. And in neighboring Washington, the effort could get quite intimate: The state is interested in sponsoring portable toilets at concerts in an effort to reach uninsured young adults.

With 83 days left until the health law’s insurance marketplaces open for business, public awareness remains low. Most polling data suggest that few Americans are aware of how the Affordable Care Act works – or that it even exists.

A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed 42 percent of Americans to be uncertain about whether the health-care law still stands. Gallup found last month that 43 percent of the uninsured were not aware of the law’s requirement to buy health insurance coverage.

States are spending millions to change that, using everything from television ads to free grocery bags to bus tours to sell President Obama’s signature legislative achievement. They are relying near-exclusively on federal grants to run the campaigns.

I won’t quibble with their targeting strategy. Coffee cups and music festival porta-potties are pretty good places to reach young people. But what’s the pitch? “When you’re done going No. 2, make sure to look out for No. 1 by buying yourself some health insurance, which is more comprehensive and expensive than you need, more expensive than the penalty for not buying it, and hey, aren’t you still on your parents’ insurance, anyway? Maybe we should have thought about that before we ran these ads.” The fact is, Obamacare’s just not a good deal for young people, nor was it designed to be. The hope was always to lure a bunch of mostly low-maintenance, low-cost suckers into the system to offset the costs of the older and sicker, who could conceivably look forward to a better deal:


As long as insurers are raking in profits by collecting premiums from individuals with virtually no medical costs, they can afford to take on more expensive patients. This is precisely why as president, Obama abandoned his prior opposition to the individual mandate and why his administration fought so hard to preserve it in court.

Liberals, as Cohn writes, have openly acknowledged that, “some young and healthy people would have to pay more.” The problem for Obamacare supporters is that right now, millions of younger Americans don’t bother getting insurance. So, if currently, this subset of the population doesn’t think insurance is a good deal for them, why would they be compelled to purchase even more expensive insurance once Obamacare goes into effect? As I constantly reiterate, a young American who chooses to go uninsured under the current system pays $0 per month in premiums…

The problem is, in 2014, the penalty for not having insurance is either $95 or 1 percent of taxable income (roughly $213 for our hypothetical 26 year-old). Yet the cheapest policy offered on the California exchange would cost $1,944 annually. Would a young worker without much disposable income, quite possibly carrying student loans and credit card debt, have an extra $1,700 to toss around? And again, if that worker already chooses to go uninsured under the current system, why would he purchase more expensive insurance under Obamacare?


Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney informs us that anyone criticizing the copious Obamacare delays and glitches (which Guy Benson has catalogued, here), is just “wilfully ignorant” of the healthy precedent for major legislation falling completely apart before its been enacted:

Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin begs to differ.

Some Democrats were also dismayed by the White House’s actions. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and an author of the health law, questioned whether Mr. Obama had the authority to unilaterally delay the employer mandate.

“This was the law. How can they change the law?” he asked.

For its part, the White House continued to look flat-footed on the issue. After an almost surreptitious evening announcement of the delay last week, posted on the Treasury Department’s Web site, the White House is declining to send a representative to a House hearing on the decision that is scheduled for Wednesday. An administration official might testify next week.

The arguments of Obamacare supporters have become increasingly odd as the week’s news cycle has unfurled. Greg Sargent and Chuck Todd declared that, somehow, the president’s decision to delay major components of his own bill is just further evidence of the efficacy of Republican obstructionism (upgraded to the dramatic sounding, “sabotage governing”). I’ll grant them that if it were Republicans who caused that, it’d be quite a feat, but as even Joe Klein has admitted, the Obama administration has had years to work on these problems and dropped the ball.


Ezra Klein declared that we should all look on the bright side because jettisoning major parts of Obamacare had just made it easier to implement, not harder. Yes, and it’d have been a lot easier for me to announce I was going to run a marathon only to quit six miles in to pat myself vigorously on the back. That’s how not doing things you’ve promised to do generally works. Megan McArdle fleshes out just how far short of Obamacare’s promises this attitude falls. The whole thing is worth a read:

This is not just a rather unflattering reflection on the administration’s ability to implement its signature achievement–didn’t they, say, talk to any IT folks about this? It’s also a violation of the promises that they made when this thing passed. They swore up and down that cost control was central to Obamacare; the bill would have been even less popular had they suggested that it would be deficit increasing, rather than decreasing our Gross National Overdraft.

But as it turns out, they’re all too willing to throw cost control overboard if it becomes inconvenient. This is pretty much exactly what critics said they were planning to do–a charge which was excoriated at the time as baseless slander.

I understand why the administration, and Obamacare’s supporters, view coverage expansion as the whole point, and cost-control and anti-fraud measures as incidental side measures that should not be allowed to get in the way of the main task. I think they are sincere, and their goals are worthy. But that wasn’t the deal they promised, or the law they wrote. The deal they promised was that they would be cost-controllers, not the authors of yet another budget-busting entitlement–that they would fight fraud, not abet it.


And, finally, a PSA for us from Phil Klein. Don’t get cocky. It can sometimes be lost in the political shuffle, but it’s quite ungratifying to be proven right about legislation when the most damaging parts of it will remain, hurting consumers, scaring the bejeezus out of families and business owners, and generally leaving people with worse care than they had back when 85 percent of them were basically happy with their health insurance before Obama decided to “fix” it.

Front-page photo via dnet on Flickr.

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David Strom 5:20 PM | April 19, 2024