For Shame

This is the Most Outrageous, Immoral Attack on Obamacare Yet

A conservative group is trying to convince college kids to opt out of health exchanges—by portraying Uncle Sam as an OB/GYN. Jamelle Bouie on the disturbing and disgraceful ad campaign.

While Republicans wage a futile battle against the Affordable Care Act in the House and Senate, conservative activists are trying to sabotage the law on the ground. In particular, they want to keep young people out of the health-insurance exchanges, which are scheduled to go online in less than two weeks. For one right-wing group, that means scaring college students—and young women in particular—with the specter of government intervention, in the most literal form possible.

As reported by Yahoo's Chris Moody, Generation Opportunity, “a Virginia-based group that is part of a coalition of right-leaning organizations with financial ties to billionaire businessmen and political activists Charles and David Koch, will launch a six-figure campaign aimed at convincing young people to ‘opt-out’ of the Obamacare exchanges.”

The first event is a college tour, scheduled for the end of month, where the group will try to counterprogram against pro-health-reform activists. To kick-off the tour, Generation Opportunity has released a few ads, with a straightforward message: If you sign up for Obamacare, the government will molest you with a medical instrument. Watch:

There's a second video that shows a similar scenario, except with a young man receiving a forcible prostate exam. Again, featuring the same Burger King–esque Uncle Sam. At the risk of sounding like a concern troll, I'm not sure this is a smart approach for conservatives or anyone else affiliated with the Republican Party.

Yes, the goal makes sense. Even the administration admits that Obamacare can’t work without a particular ratio of young people to old—the former are necessary to subsidize the latter. Indeed, of the 7 million enrollees the White House hopes to have by next March, 40 percent need to be between the ages of 18 and 35. To that end, the administration has invested significant time and resources into reaching out to young people, through its “Navigators” program and initiatives with local politicians and other groups in states like Florida, Texas, and California. If this effort fails, the ACA could become an unsustainable burden instead of a needed reform to the system.

But given last year’s controversies over “transvaginal ultrasounds” and “forcible rape”—which all but gave Democrats solid wins in Missouri and Indiana, bolstering their Senate majority—Republicans would do well to tread lightly. Conservatives may not like the administration’s system of regulated health insurance, but it’s not the same as sexual assault. And indeed, when coupled with wide Republican support for harsh abortion laws—including restrictions for rape victims—it's not hard to argue that the party is insensitive to victims of sexual assault.

With the latest ads, conservatives argue that they're just trying to raise awareness. “What we’re trying to communicate is, ‘No, you’re actually not required to buy health insurance,’” Generation Opportunity president Evan Feinberg told Yahoo News. “You might have to pay a fine, but that’s going to be cheaper for you and better for you.”

The administration, however, doubts this is an effective message. “For young adults, health isn’t about the red team or blue team. It’s personal. Anything that plays in that very political space is tuned out as noise,” says pollster David Simas, former director of opinion research for Obama’s reelection effort and currently a top communications and strategy aide in the White House.

If there’s anything else to say about this effort to keep young people out of the health-insurance exchanges, it’s that—when you consider the potential consequences—it’s shameful, and bordering on immoral.

Think of what happens if you’re an uninsured 27-year-old. You’re in fine shape, until you have an accident, or come down with an unexpected illness, or have to be hospitalized for anything from alcohol poisoning to an athletic injury. In which case, you’ll be on the hook for thousands of dollars in medical bills, without any way to pay for them. And this is to say nothing of the challenge of receiving preventative care. A regular screening—like the OB/GYN visit depicted in the ad—could be the difference between surviving a brush with cervical cancer, or losing your life.

In other words, what Generation Opportunity and other conservatives aren’t saying is that, if their push is successful, hundreds of thousands of Americans will suffer—risking their lives and financial security—for the sake of a narrow ideological crusade.

That “end Obamacare” is a right-wing pipe dream doesn’t make this any less disgraceful.