What if a health care law could benefit millions of Americans — but no one knew about it? Recent Republican efforts to derail Obamacare’s educational outreach — despite abundant evidence that Americans don’t know enough about the law to take advantage of it — may have that very effect.
On Thursday, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) sent a letter to NBA and NFL league commissioners, probing them about recent talks between the organizations and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on a potential deal to promote enrollment into Obamacare’s insurance marketplaces.
“I contend that the effects of this [Obamacare] train wreck will have a devastating impact on your fans and business partners across the country… I would caution you against being coerced into doing [the Obama administration’s] dirty work for them,” wrote Scalise.
That’s just the latest in a series of GOP attacks on Obamacare promotion. Since May, congressional Republicans have been scrutinizing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ efforts to partner with — and solicit funds from — private health care organizations in order to let consumers know about enrollment opportunities and benefits under the law.
Those efforts may be necessary considering a new Gallup poll from Friday which finds that 43 percent of uninsured — who stand to benefit the most from Obamcare — don’t know that they have to buy insurance with the help of federal subsidies next year. Over 40 percent of Americans don’t even know that Obamcare is still the law of the land. That’s particularly concerning since open enrollment for the law’s insurance marketplaces begin in about three months.
Private organizations are trying to bridge that information gap. On Thursday, Cosmopolitan magazine announced that it will include informational material about the health law in upcoming issues. “This stuff is really important. It’s life-changing for a lot of people,” said Cosmo editor-in-chief Joanna Coles in an interview with Reuters.
These outreach and public education tactics haven’t been historically controversial — the George W. Bush administration did much the same when selling the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan for seniors, and former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney teamed up with the Boston Red Sox to promote Romneycare — the precursor to Obamacare — when he was governor of Massachusetts.
But that hasn’t stopped Republican lawmakers like Scalise from castigating HHS and organizations that are considering selling the law by letting Americans know about the resources that are available to them. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) went so far as to compare Sebelius to Iran-Contra felon Oliver North over her outreach push. Many conservative groups have been actively undermining educational outreach about Obamacare by waging print, radio, and TV ad campaigns that scaremonger over the law. In fact, Obamacare opponents have outspent its supporters by a five to one margin in the last two and a half years.
Republicans may see an opportunity to derail the law in public ignorance about its provisions, possibly giving them a campaign issue for the 2014 midterm elections. But private groups such as the NBA have signaled an openness to assisting Obamacare implementation, which makes sense since large portions of their fan bases will benefit from the law. That gives sports groups an opportunity to be good corporate citizens while also helping consumers with their health care costs.