Sarah Kliff has a must-read piece in the Washington Post on a new effort from the conservative organization FreedomWorks. Their objective? To enlist young Americans in rejecting health insurance for the purpose of dooming the Affordable Care Act. The fiscal sustainability of the new insurance exchanges established by the law will greatly depend on the young and healthy signing up, so FreedomWorks sees their non-involvement as the best way to sabotage Obamacare moving forward.
To accomplish that goal the activist group is organizing events for young folks to…well, read it for yourself (emphasis mine):
Dean Clancy wants you to burn your Obamacare draft card. That there’s no such thing as an Obamacare draft card is, at best, only a small problem.
“The whole scheme is enlisting young adults to overpay, so other people can have subsidies,” Clancy says. “That unfairness reminded us of the military draft.”
While the military has draft cards, the Affordable Care Act does not. Instead, FreedomWorks took an image of the Vietnam draft cards and grafted the word “Obamacare” to the top. The hope is that students will film themselves burning these cards and upload the videos online.
“We’re trying to make it socially acceptable to skip the exchange and pay the fine,” Clancy says. “Our goal is directly opposite that of the administration’s. Our mantra is, ‘skip the exchange, pay the fine.’”
Clancy concedes it’s a difficult pitch. His group, and others, will ask Americans to forgo billions in tax subsidies that could, for many uninsured Americans, make health insurance affordable for the first time. But the anti-Obamacare movement has few options left.
I’ll leave aside any comments on the appropriation of symbolism inherent in Vietnam-era social resistance by burning fake Obamacare cards. Encouraging young Americans to remain uninsured has other implications of a consequential and contextual nature.
For the former I’ll outsource to the excellent Adrianna McIntyre over at The Incidental Economist:
Here’s what bugs me: this gimmick—and other efforts like it—aren’t owning up to the full ramifications of foregoing coverage. Sure, there’s the penalty; everyone knows about that. But there’s also the limited open enrollment issue. That’s insurer-speak for “you can only sign up for exchange plans during certain months”; despite the rhetoric, people actually can’t just buy insurance whenever they fall ill. The initial enrollment period is extended, from October 2013 through March 2014. But in subsequent years, enrollment will only last from October to December. There are special exceptions, like losing employer-based coverage during an off month, but I double-checked the regs.“I accidentally burned my Obamacare card” didn’t make the cut.
To the extent that conservative organizations like FreedomWorks might not be (and I don’t know for sure) fully informing participants of the consequences of their actions — their lack of disclosure should be condemned. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe this as gimmick, per se, insomuch as it represents a fine tradition of non-violent activism in this country. I think their positions are wrong, but in a vacuum of merit I say have at it and make sure you don’t burn yourself. However, just be aware that there are consequences beyond losing study time and a little lighter fluid.
Speaking of a vacuum; there are contextual drawbacks to emblazoned effigies of a deficit-reducing law to ensure affordable access to healthcare. One of the complaints in Kliff’s reporting was “I’m burning my Obamacare card because Obamacare is turning full-time jobs into part-time jobs.” Obviously that line of criticism has been on my everyone’s mind lately, but looking through Table A-8 — covering those working part-time for economic reasons — of the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly jobs report yields some relevant context.
For the moment let’s just ignore the eleventy-billion caveats that discounts using the BLS data in this manner for the sake of context. The sub-category you’d most associate with the ACA inducing involuntary part-time work would be “could only find part-time work,” of which only one part would be reasonably be associated at some level with the law; the “inability to find full-time work.” It just so happens that it’s also the category involving the fewest number of workers at approximately 2 million. The next largest category, slack or unfavorable business conditions, accounts for around 5 million. Those two are thunderingly dwarfed by those who are forced to work part-time for “noneconomic” reasons. These would include “childcare problems, family or personal obligations, school or training, retirement or Social Security limits on earnings,” etc. The number of those whose liberty to work full-time jobs are infringed upon by these conditions account for over 18 million Americans.
Yet no one is organizing to have young people burn their Social Security cards. Nor are there activists embracing participatory democracy over calls to abolish limited daycare hours, or sick relatives, or community service, or senior citizens electing to work less. Are all these fair comparisons? Of course not! That’s kind of the point: we don’t unilaterally treat every cause of involuntary underemployment as an affront worth protesting. Some things are just the consequences of a living a life, while others are similarly enforcing public policy.
For the latter you don’t see cards burning because for the most part we agree these policies provide a good worth risking the possibility for disincentives towards full-time employment. The orientation against the ACA doesn’t reflect some general principle against such disincentives — hence the apparent disinterest in the vastly largely number being forced to work part-time. It’s a position that specifically objects to 30 million low and middle-income Americans gaining health insurance in order to protect some portion of fewer than 3 million Americans not being able to find full-time work in any given month.