‘Creepy’ Uncle Sam asks young adults to opt out of Obamacare

September 23, 2013

“Creepy.”

That’s the word everyone is using — and rightly so — to describe the pair of ads featuring a diabolical Uncle Sam who’s trying to convince young adults to opt out of Obamacare.

A "creepy" Uncle Sam says opt out. (Generation Opportunity press release)
A “creepy” Uncle Sam says opt out of Obamacare.(Generation Opportunity press release)

Such a campaign is “disturbing,” Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, told me Saturday during a mental health conference in Kansas City, Mo.

“Young adults are one diagnosis, one motorcycle accident, one car accident away from a lifetime of [medical] bills,” Sebelius said. Health insurance obtained through the Affordable Care Act could “save them and their families from bankruptcy.”

Sure, millennials are often the healthiest members of the population, and they may believe they’re invincible. It’s estimated as many as 16 million don’t have adequate insurance. But a broken bone or a middle-of-the-night appendicitis attack can wreck a 20-something’s financial future.

We know: My college-student daughter’s minor surgery, done as an outpatient in April, would have cost $30,000 if she hadn’t been covered on my husband’s insurance (an early perk of the Affordable Care Act has allowed 2.5 million adult children up to age 26 who otherwise wouldn’t have insurance to remain on their parents’ policies). Even with the policy, the bills have amounted to nearly $3,000 for out-of-pocket expenses.

Yet an activist group called Generation Opportunity, with funding ties to the conservative Koch Brothers, claims on its Web site that “there are better, cheaper options” than the Affordable Care Act for fellow millennials. The group fails to list what those choices might be.

The Virginia-based group, which is responsible for the Uncle Sam videos, has announced a $750,000 effort to persuade young adults “to opt out” of using the soon-to-be-available health exchanges or health insurance marketplace to buy policies from private companies. As part of that campaign, the group will take its show on the road to some 20 college campuses across the country.

“We want young people to know they have options — including the ability to opt out of Obamacare by paying a relatively small penalty,” Evan Feinberg, president of Generation Opportunity, said in a news release. That penalty will be $95, or 1 percent of income, in 2014; it will gradually increase.

Feinberg refers to Obamacare as a “quite frankly, creepy pyramid scheme” and explains that his group is “relying on creativity and grassroots activism” to fight it.

I guess you could call the Uncle Sam ads, which were posted on YouTube Thursday and have since gone viral, as “creative.”

In one ad, Uncle Sam pops up at the foot of an exam table while a young woman has her legs in the stirrups (a vulnerable position, believe me). She screams and on the screen flash the words, “Don’t let government play doctor.” Then we’re treated to a close-up of Uncle Sam brandishing a speculum.

In the other video, it’s the young man’s turn, looking worried (a lot of jaw-clenching going on) as he lies on his side, knees to his chest, his backside exposed. Uncle Sam magically appears, snaps on a pair of blue rubber gloves and wriggles his fingers in anticipation.

Irony, anyone? Hasn’t it been members of the Republican Party playing doctor by passing legislation in a number of states requiring any woman considering an abortion to undergo an ultrasound with a transvaginal probe — a most invasive and uncomfortable procedure?

The plan is simple for Generation Opportunity. They hope to undermine Obamacare by underfunding the program. The White House has estimated that at least 2.7 million of the 7 million people expected to sign up for health insurance through the health exchanges need to be young adults. If enough healthy, young adults fail to buy private insurance through the health exchanges, the companies will lack the funds to pay out claims for older and often sicker customers.

But will it be that easy to win over the hearts and minds — and wallets — of the millennials? More than 27 percent of adults age 18 to 24 have no health insurance. But the idea that most of them believe they don’t need it may be just another myth, like so much of the misinformation on the Affordable Care Act.

Only a fourth of them think they’re healthy enough that they don’t need health insurance, according to research by the Kaiser Foundation, while a study by the Commonwealth Fund found that the majority of adults age 30 and under would buy insurance if they could afford it.

Because of Obamacare, preexisting conditions will no longer prevent some young adults from purchasing a policy. “In the past, a teenage girl could take Accutane for acne and then be denied health insurance for a preexisting condition,” Sebelius said.

Or, as she explained earlier during the “Mental Health Matters” conference to enthusiastic applause, “Being a woman is no longer considered a preexisting condition.”

I can’t help but compare health insurance and auto insurance. We’re required in many states to show proof of car insurance before we can get a license for the vehicle. And most of us would never dream of buying a nice car — but then refusing to get insurance.

Or what about telling our kids to forego insurance? “Hey, Junior, you’re such a good driver, don’t waste your money buying an insurance policy. You won’t need it.”

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.
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