The commercial above was produced by Generation Opportunity, a Koch brothers-funded political activism group that encourages young people to “opt out” of Obamacare by not buying health insurance. First of all, it’s good to see the leprechaun from Leprechaun working again. Second, the “opt out” campaign is designed to sabotage the Affordable Care Act by disrupting state insurance exchanges. For insurers to offer lower premiums, they need to enroll large numbers of relatively healthy young people, who dilute the risk pool for everyone else. If large numbers of young Americans refuse to buy health insurance, the exchanges will falter, [ill-defined step two] and, finally, Obamacare will disappear. Unintended consequences after the jump.
If we accept that the GOP has sometimes encouraged people to vote against their own interest over the last 30 years, this ad is pretty much the ne plus ultra of contemporary Republican politics. It is true that if millions of young people refuse to buy health insurance, Obamacare won’t work. Also, some of those young people will get hurt or sick. I was fully insured when I broke my hand in 2006, but it still cost me $22,000 to get it all fixed. Had I not had health insurance, I would have had to choose between figuratively crippling debt and literally crippling injury. One way or the other, I wouldn’t be typing this right now.
Those kinds of individual cases add up. Young people are already much more likely to carry college debt. Encouraging them not to purchase health insurance won’t reduce the number of Americans who get hurt or sick in a given year, but it will reduce the number who can pay for it. If Generation Opportunity is successful in its campaign to dissuade young people from buying health insurance, it will create a cadre of Americans who start their adult lives with insurmountable debt. Those people won’t buy houses, get married or start new businesses. They will become the opposite of what the Republican Party claims to want.
Of course, those uninsured young people won’t just be hurting themselves. By getting treatment they subsequently can’t pay for, they’ll also drive up the cost of health care for everyone else. One of the central problems in American health care has always been the uninsured; that’s what the individual mandate was designed to address. In trying to convince young people not to buy health insurance, Generation Opportunity has shown itself so opposed to one particular solution that it is willing to exacerbate the problem. It’s as if de Gaulle had objected to Churchill’s North Africa strategy, so he went to Tunisia and started shooting Allies.
So Generation Opportunity is kind of a cynical name. Even if this campaign succeeds, Obamacare will remain in place. It just won’t work. GenOpp’s best-case scenario is that we’re saddled with a disastrous law that mucks up American health care for the next few years. In the meantime, the organization will encourage large numbers of young Americans to make a mistake that could jeopardize the rest of their financial lives.
And how is it doing that? Basically, by exploiting people’s fear of doctors. This Uncle-Sam-with-a-speculum commercial has a counterpart for men in which Uncle Sam puts his finger in your butthole. Neither of them addresses anything having to do with insurance. Whether you buy health insurance or not, the gynecologist is going to use a speculum on you. If you sign up with Aetna, neither your insurance agent nor a representative from the government will be in the examining room. If you opt out of insurance, you probably won’t be there either.
In the end, that’s the message Generation Opportunity is paying to disseminate: opt out of the American health care system. Don’t buy health insurance and hope you never need a doctor. When you do need a doctor, either don’t go or don’t pay, so that medical care—and therefore health insurance—gets more expensive for everybody else. That way, we can defeat Obamacare.
And to what end? What possible change in American health care law could be so terrible that we would rather drive up provider costs, artificially worsen the insurer risk pool and saddle a generation with debt? I’m starting to think that the political class is losing perspective on this whole Obamacare thing. I’m beginning to suspect that Generation Opportunity does not have my best interests at heart. They do have a ton of money, though, so they must be basically good.