Hawking Healthcare: Shades of Orwellian Freakishness

LFU_SeedsDestruction_Blasts_vFOnce it became law, the White House spent little effort selling the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to the American public. Until this year, of course. There was a big marketing push before the law was passed. Most memorable are the President’s promises that we can keep our policies and doctors. There were others as well. They were focused mainly on the fairness of extending healthcare coverage to those without it.

But as politicians know, fairness is rarely a big seller if it means less money in voters’ pockets. That’s why the President’s false promises were so necessary. According to Mr. Obama, extended coverage came – not just with the same policies and  doctors – but with lower premiums, too.

The pre-passage marketing claims were irrational on their face. Expanding coverage at a lower price point can only be accomplished if the coverage is significantly reduced or costs are drastically cut. The latter was extremely unlikely and the former was contrary to the promises. Still, there is something very alluring about the prospect of free stuff. So, the public got behind the Act with enough enthusiasm to permit the passage of the partisan law.

And then reality began to intrude. The first crack in the facade of the happy face plastered around Obamacare came in October 2011. The White House announced that the long-term care provision of the law was permanently scrapped. The reason given was cost – too much of it to absorb. But, who needs long-term care anyway? We still had our regular policies and doctors and were looking forward to lower premiums.

Until 2013. This year, the happy face has suffered so many cracks that the facade has finally fallen off completely. The employer mandate was delayed as was the multiple policy choices promised to small business employees. Small businesses were also delayed in using the Obamacare website to buy insurance for their employees for another year.

Worst of all were the policy cancellations, the loss of doctors and the premium hikes. Six million insured people saw their policies cancelled as “substandard”, a bar set only by the Federal regulation itself. Forcing people to buy unneeded coverage at higher rates produced the lowest approval ratings of Obama’s presidency. As of this writing, his ratings continue to fall.

To stem the negative tidal wave engulfing the President, the Administration launched a full-court marketing press. The effort has produced a surreal collage of Orwellian freakishness that merely serves to underscore the law’s intractable problems.  After all, if Obamacare made sense, the sales pitch would not need to be so very bizarre.

And it is bizarre. We are treated to the spectacle of the President and First Lady, among others, entreating segments of society to become hucksters of Obamacare. The primary goal is to enroll young, healthy adults whose premium dollars are needed to pay for the costs of treating older, sick people. It would be a tough sell for expert marketeers – spending more money than you need to help someone else cope – and the would-be sales people are no experts.

But, they are a diverse lot. Mothers – first Latinas and then all moms – urged to speak to their adult children, to folks at the grocery store, to whoever will listen. Bartenders at frat parties, young adults in plaid pajamascelebrities and families around holiday tables all chatting up the benefits of paying too much for healthcare. All ignoring the increasingly public problems with a product originally sold through deception. 

Some, like moms and bartenders, are left to their own imaginations on how best to pitch Obamacare. But, there are focused campaigns like “Tell A Friend – Get Covered”, “Health Care For The Holidays” for the family dinner crowd and the “21 Days of Christmas”. O.k., I did name that last one, but it is a focused campaign as well. The Administration is touting a different Obamacare benefit on each of the 21 days between December 3 and December 23, inclusive.

The whole scene has an Orwellian eeriness about it. Big Brother peering out from behind the mothers, bartenders, young adults, celebrities and families around dinner tables. It’s a lot like the multitude of giant visages, suspended from skyways and scrapers, hawking wares in dystopian sci-fi films like Blade Runner. Little wonder that the effort has had scant positive effect on Obamacare enrollment. Too many cracks in the facade. Too many cancelled policies. Too much freakishness.

Mark Twain once observed, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” Obama has managed to do both.