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How the Koch brothers’ beer offensive against Obamacare fell flat

By Sadhbh Walshe, The Guardian
Thursday, October 17, 2013 17:11 EDT
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A Koch-funded front is using free beer to entice students away from health exchanges. But Obamacare is made of stronger stuff

What’s a family values conservative to do when every effort to protect millions of Americans from the scourge of affordable healthcare fails?

Break out the beer, of course. The latest campaign to kill off Obamacare in its infancy is now playing out on college campuses where a conservative group known as Generation Opportunity (GO), who are funded in part by the billionaire Koch brothers, is using the lure of free beer and “opt out” beer koozies to persuade young students not to buy health insurance – or, at least, not to buy it from the Obamacare exchanges.

Traditionally, one might expect God-fearing conservatives to be warning youth about the dangers of alcohol consumption, rather than plying them with free liquor, but these are desperate times. The determined Koch brothers have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to derail the president’s healthcare law. So far, though, despite their best efforts, Obamacare has proved as “invincible” as the young people it needs to enroll. While it’s unlikely that the beer exchanges, shall we call them, will be the game-changer, the Kochs may well end up driving many of us to drink with their relentless and futile vendetta to undo the law – not just the college students.

Nearly every movement to “educate the public” about the “dangers” of Obamacare can be linked in some way to the Koch brothers, and this latest college campus effort is no different. Last month, Politico revealed that GO has received $5.04m from the Koch-funded entity known as Freedom Works. This “grassroots” movement is now about to embark on an “Opt Out” tour of 20 college towns across the country as part of its effort to steer young people away from the Obamacare exchanges. As GO’s 29-year-old president, Evan Feinberg, put it:

What we’re trying to communicate is, ‘No, you’re not actually required to buy health insurance’ … you might have to pay a fine, but that’s going to be cheaper for you, and better for you.

After coming under criticism for this statement, Feinberg (who previously worked at the Charles Koch Institute) has since clarified that GO is not trying to persuade young people to opt out of buying insurance altogether, just from buying it through the healthcare exchanges.

Maybe, I’m naive to think that most young Americans will not fall for this cynical ploy, no matter how much free beer they are plied with. It seems to me that any campaign that is based on a false premise – in this case, that young people could get cheaper insurance before Obamacare or since – seems destined for failure.

According to a report released in September by the Department of the Health and Human Services, 56% of the people who are applying for health insurance today will be able to get coverage through the health insurance marketplace for less than $100 a month. This means that a large percentage of the youth market that GO are targeting would be able to get comprehensive health coverage under Obamacare for a very low rate.

If Feinberg or any other GO employee genuinely knows about better insurance deals than that for students, it would be really helpful if they listed them on their Opt Out website. Surely, that would be a far better use of their Koch dollars than buying more crates of beer?

As it is, the Opt Out website contains no information beyond vague and unsubstantiated claims about Obamacare being a “bad deal”, and two embarrassingly poorly made ads featuring a “Creepy Uncle Sam” character who pops up between a woman’s legs as she undergoes a gynaecological exam and asks a young man to roll over while he pulls on a surgical glove. The message – that government should stay out of healthcare – is about as subtle as Miley Cyrus’ recent sledgehammer licking antics.

Whether Creepy Uncle Sam and his creepier backers will succeed in bringing down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) remains to be seen, but the prognosis is not good. Since the ACA was signed into law in 2010, it has miraculously managed to withstand “Hitler death panel” comparisons, state by state efforts to block its implementation, a US supreme court challenge to its constitutionality and, most recently, a defunding effort that led to the federal government shutdown.

As the New York Times recently reported, the Koch brothers have been heavily involved in all of these separate efforts through their generous funding of groups like Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, Heritage Action and, of course, Generation Opportunity. But so far, their efforts have been in vain. Not only is Obamacare still the law of the land, but the law has actually gained a major bump in support since the shutdown stand-off.

As it happens, even the Koch brothers have begun to realize that their attempts to stop the ACA are getting them nowhere. Last week, a representative of Koch Industries sent a letter to members of the Senate distancing the company from efforts to defund Obamacare, while still making it clear that Koch really does not like the law.

Does this mean the Koch brothers are done with their various and multifaceted efforts to bring it down? Probably not, but if they at least scale back their efforts to just distributing free beers, that might not be such a bad thing.

After what they have put us all through, we deserve one.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

 
 
 
 
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