When the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it was talking to the National Football League about possibly partnering in a campaign to ensure that Americans sign up for health insurance under the new health care law – aka Obamacare – the outcry among conservatives was nearly instantaneous. They threatened to boycott games and bemoaned having to watch "propaganda" during commercial breaks on Sundays.
Some Republican senators even penned a letter to the NFL – and to other major American professional sports leagues – saying: "Given the divisiveness and persistent unpopularity of this bill, it is difficult to understand why an organization like yours would risk damaging its inclusive and apolitical brand by lending its name to its promotion." Last week, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., wrote a separate letter warning to the NFL against doing the Obama administration's "dirty work. "
Well, the pressure seems to have paid off, as the NFL announced that it "currently (has) no plans to engage in this area." And that's too bad because, as the most popular sports league in the country, the NFL could have really helped America's drive toward a modern health care system, politics aside, much like Major League Baseball's Boston Red Sox helped spread awareness of Massachusetts' health care law.
Despite the GOP's constant efforts to not make it so, Obamacare is the law of the land. Thirty-seven repeal votes have not changed that simple fact. And under the law, all Americans will have to procure health insurance by 2014 or face a fine. This is a critical component of a law that is premised on a system in which everyone has insurance, so the risk pool is big enough to encompass those with pre-existing conditions (who can no longer be discriminated against by insurance companies).
Key to getting everyone enrolled in a health insurance plan, then, is letting people know where they can purchase insurance. The new state-based insurance exchanges – the insurance marketplace, if you will – open on Oct. 1.
But according to a recent Gallup poll, 43 percent of uninsured Americans don't know about the requirement to purchase health insurance by next year, setting themselves up for a rude awakening. A Kaiser poll found that just one in five Americans are aware of the health insurance exchanges. And, in a larger sense, the new system falls apart if too few healthy Americans (like, young, football-watching men, for instance) are brought in to offset the increased cost of covering all of those who have pre-existing conditions.
And that, in fact, seems to be the point of what the GOP is doing. The more dysfunctional the health care law is, the more Republicans can claim to have been right about it all along. It's the same strategy that is at work in GOP efforts to underfund the financial reform law or a host of federal agencies: render government ineffective by not giving it adequate resources to do its job, then argue for more cuts on the grounds that government is ineffective.
In this instance, the GOP's efforts will result in officials having a harder time implementing a federal law that was passed by Congress and signed by the president; fewer people knowing how they can buy insurance that they are required to buy; and ultimately more people going without health insurance who could have had it, if only they'd known where to go and what to do.
The NFL, of course, is under no obligation to help the federal government get the word out about Obamacare. In fact, I can understand the league not wanting to get into the middle of what is a partisan spitting match. The problem is that Republicans are trying to undermine Obamacare at every turn – even though it is the law – and Americans are going to wind up worse off because of it.