When the National Football League season kicks off this week, the Baltimore Ravens will not only be hitting the field as the defending Super Bowl champions, they'll also have the distinction of being the first professional sports franchise to officially throw its support behind Obamacare.
As Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown explained: "Research shows that 71 percent of the uninsured population in Maryland have watched, attended or listened to a Ravens game in the past 12 months. The partnership will provide Maryland Health Connection with the opportunity to reach and engage fans while making them aware of the new opportunity they have for health coverage beginning this fall." The team plans to lay out more details about its role later.
Remember, back in July, the Department of Health and Human Services raised the notion of partnering with professional sports leagues – including the NFL – to sell the benefits of acquiring health insurance under the exchanges created by Obamacare, like Maryland Health Connection, which officially open next month. But Republicans raised such a hue and cry that the league backed down. So instead, it is up to individual franchises to grab the ball and run with it, if they so choose.
Of course, the conservative freakout over the Ravens' decision was swift. Americans for Tax Reform – Grover Norquist's virulently anti-tax organization – organized a petition saying that the Ravens are "about to commit an unsportsmanlike penalty against football fans everywhere by shoving slick new Obamacare ads down fans' throats," while the conservative Washington Times said the Ravens plan to "help Obamacare recover from fumbling sales efforts."
The reason for conservative apoplexy, at this point, should be clear: Any successful effort to promote Obamacare's health exchanges counteracts the conservative attempt to undo Obamacare by literally convincing people that they are better off without health insurance.
Yes, that's right: Conservative organizations have become so desperate to do away with a law they dislike that they are telling people it is better to live with the risk of bankruptcy, ruin and death that comes from being uninsured than to access affordable health care through the Obamacare exchanges, blowing by the line between political opposition and plain horribleness.
The conservative plan posits that, if enough of the uninsured eschew coverage, the risk pool under Obamacare will consist of so many sick people that premiums will spike and the law will fall apart. That's why a partnership with the Ravens is terrifying: again, more than 7 in 10 uninsured Marylanders follow the Ravens, and if they start seeing the benefits of Obamacare and signing up, the conservative scheme unravels. (According to estimates from the lt. gov.'s office, 180,000 Marylanders are expected to access health care under the Maryland exchange.)
This isn't the first time that the Ravens have pitched in to help promote access to health care. In 2008, the team also spread the word about an expansion of Medicaid. (I must have just missed the conservative outrage then.) And good for them: Even if you oppose Obamacare, telling people who can access health insurance that they should remain uninsured in order to secure a political victory should be a game that no one is willing to play.