Commentary Magazine


Vote Turnout Tactics Won’t Sell ObamaCare

Despite all the happy talk we’ve been hearing from the Obama administration and their media cheerleaders about the growing number of those enrolled in ObamaCare, they know they’re in trouble. The total number of enrollees is still far below what is needed to make the program pay for itself. With, as I noted here last week, up to 20 percent of those already counted as having signed up failing to pay their premiums and thus still not covered, the shortfall of customers is one of many problems plaguing the president’s signature health care plan.

To recruit more customers, the administration and its allies are pulling out all the stops. Television ads are flooding the airwaves with celebrities attempting to sell the benefits of ObamaCare as if it were soap while veterans of the president’s reelection campaign are literally hitting the bricks, going door to door in targeted neighborhoods trying to find new customers one at a time.

But, as the New York Times makes clear in a piece that was clearly intended to be sympathetic to the effort, marshaling the same resources that produced a massive turnout to vote for Barack Obama may turn out to be a lot easier than persuading Americans to buy ObamaCare:

The hunt for the uninsured in Broward County got underway one recent afternoon when 41 canvassers, armed with electronic maps on Samsung tablets, set off through working-class neighborhoods to peddle the Affordable Care Act door to door. Four hours later, they had made contact with 2,623 residents and signed up exactly 25 people.

Many of their targets, people identified on sophisticated computer lists generated in Washington as unlikely to have health insurance, had moved away. Some were not home. Many said they already had insurance through Medicare, their parents or a job. A few were hostile at the mere mention of President Obama’s health care law.

“We’re going to repeal that,” one man said gruffly as he shut the door in the face of a canvasser, Nancy Morwin, 58, a retired social worker.

While that prediction may be disputed, it’s clear that the full-court press to inflate ObamaCare enrollment may not be enough to either answer questions about its acceptance or to make it possible for the program to survive.

Some of the early efforts to persuade young and presumably healthy “invincibles” to sign up were downright embarrassing. The “Got Insurance” campaign launched by Colorado liberals claimed the program would facilitate sexual hookups and keep them healthy even if they abused alcohol. But while the ads running on sports channels and the Olympics featuring retired basketball stars Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning are more tasteful, they seem based on the same premise that the right kind of marketing is all that’s needed to convince Americans that the misnamed Affordable Care Act is something they need or want.

It may be that the slightly less than one percent success rate of the Broward County canvassers portrayed in the Times story might, if replicated throughout the nation, be enough to pump up the program’s enrollment numbers to the point where it will be proclaimed a success. But as the article also illustrated, most if not all of those signed up by the campaign fall into the category of those who are not the ideal ObamaCare recruits. A few people with pre-existing conditions and families with small children were found and enrolled by the Florida canvassers. However, these are patients who will soak up the care rationed out by the scheme. Even more rare were young and healthy customers who are unlikely to need much care and will thus pay for the others with their premiums. But even there, some of those who agreed to be enrolled found that problems with the infamous website prevented them from being signed up on the spot.

It can be argued that any government benefit program needs to be marketed to the public. But the massive effort already undertaken on behalf of ObamaCare has done more to highlight the massive public resistance to the law than anything else. At this point, only someone living under a rock or on Mars is unaware of the law or the fact that the administration is desperate to persuade more Americans to avail themselves of the insurance it is selling. Selling ObamaCare door to door the same way encyclopedias or beauty products were marketed in the 1950s and 60s may make sense to the president’s team, but the problem is not so much a matter of sales technique as it is a refusal to understand the public’s unhappiness with the law.

As the results in Broward illustrate, with enough effort it will be possible to find a great many customers who are the likely beneficiaries of ObamaCare. The poor and those with health problems that kept them from being insured don’t need a hard sell to understand they will gain from taking part. But unless the administration can con millions more young and healthy people to buy into it, the entire edifice is doomed to collapse in a sea of red ink that will only be rectified by the kind of massive federal bailout of insurers that the American people were told wouldn’t happen. Neither Magic Johnson nor the Obama reelection turnout effort can sell America on a product it doesn’t want.

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