There will be girls. There will be beer. There will be cornhole. And someone will be dressed in the creepiest Uncle Sam costume you’ve ever seen.
Welcome to the strange new front in the war over Obamacare.
As the Republican dream of repealing President Barack Obama’s health care law in Congress crumbles, the fight over the law’s future shifts from Washington to college campuses, where the new challenge for Obamacare proponents lies in convincing young people to sign up for coverage mandated by the law.
The period to enroll in health insurance exchanges established under the 2010 law begins Oct. 1, which will mark the start of a race to urge Americans to participate. The health exchanges rely heavily on young, healthy Americans who will subsidize the sick and elderly within the pools. Without the healthy, the exchanges could be unsustainable. The Obama administration is devoting millions of public dollars to promote the exchanges, but many conservative groups are actively working to convince people not to join.
That’s where Creepy Uncle Sam comes in.
Generation Opportunity, a Virginia-based group that is part of a coalition of right-leaning organizations with financial ties to billionaire businessmen and political activists Charles and David Koch, will launch a six-figure campaign aimed at convincing young people to “opt-out” of the Obamacare exchanges. Later this month, the group will begin a tour of 20 college campuses, where they plan to set up shop alongside pro-Obamacare activists such as Enroll America that are working to sign people up for the insurance exchanges.
Generation Opportunity intends to host events at college football tailgate parties festivals, where “brand ambassadors” (read: hot young people) will pass out beer koozies that read “opt out,” pizza and literature about the health care law. Some events may have impromptu dance parties with DJ’s, complete with games of cornhole and competitions for prizes, organizers said.
Their message: You don’t have to sign up for Obamacare. And they want students to sign a pledge not get insurance plans set up by the law.
“What we’re trying to communicate is, 'No, you’re actually not required to buy health insurance,'” Generation Opportunity President Evan Feinberg told Yahoo News in an interview about the campaign. “You might have to pay a fine, but that’s going to be cheaper for you and better for you.”
Under the law, those who do not sign up for health insurance in 2014 will be required to pay $95 or one percent of household income through the Internal Revenue Service. The fine will increase after that. Generation Opportunity activists will try to convince young people that it’s better for them to pay the fine, even if it means lacking coverage.
The group’s college tour will coincide with the release of an online video series featuring an Uncle Sam character that looks more like a terrifying circus clown than the guy who wants you to join the Army.
In the first Generation Opportunity video, a young woman who has just signed up for an insurance exchange under Obamacare is shown visiting an OB/GYN. A nurse guides her into a hospital room, where she changes into a flimsy gown and inserts her legs into a set of stirrups. The nurse leaves right before Creepy Uncle Sam emerges to examine her. "Don't let government play doctor,” flashes the text on the screen as the woman screams over the sound of haunting circus-like music. The ad closes with a shot of Creepy Uncle Sam staring straight into the camera clinching a speculum.
Men don’t fare any better in Generation Opportunities horrific health care dystopia. In another video that uses the same premise, a young man visits a hospital and is told to curl up on the bed in the examination room. Just like the other ad, Creepy Uncle Sam appears out of nowhere and snaps on a pair of latex gloves for what is assumed to be a prostate exam.
Generation Opportunity plans to spend up to $750,000 on the messaging push and tour, which extends through the fall. The group hasn’t announced the list of the college towns where it plans to visit, but organizers said the schedule will in part be based on areas where Enroll America workers and volunteers have a strong presence.
The campaign is one part of a larger network of conservative groups that are shifting attention away from the battle in Washington to the ground game in the states. In one recently announced campaign, the tea party-organizing group FreedomWorks called on its activists to “burn your Obamacare card.” (The act is symbolic more than it is literal, of course, since there isn’t any such card.) Another group, Americans for Prosperity, plans to host events at sporting events, festivals and town fairs around the country to urge people away from the exchanges.
Organizers behind these efforts know that the law relies on young people. After several failed attempts by conservatives to repeal it in Congress, they have determined that this is their best shot at killing it, or at least give it a knee-capping.
“If young people do opt out en mass, it will put the law in a bind, for sure,” said Feinberg, who insists the main goal is not to get rid of the law. “If it means they have to repeal it because it doesn’t work and that ends up crippling the law, well fine. Then they have to make some changes or repeal the law to make it work.”