Late last Friday, Louisiana Republican congressman Steve Scalise sent a letter to commissioners David Stern of the NBA and Roger Goodell of the NFL where he asks about recent reports that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has approached either commissioner about helping implement Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), also known as “Obamacare”. (You can read the letter in full here.)
Among other things, Scalise referred to the Affordable Care Act as “a train wreck”, claimed that Louisiana residents face insurance premium increases of up to 56% and the bill inhibits job creation and economic growth. This should come as no surprise, as Scalise has sought to repeal Obamacare as recently as this May, even though the Supreme Court upheld the law a year ago.
The NFL has apparently listened to Scalise and spokesman Greg Aiello said the league has no plans to help President Barack Obama’s administration educate football fans about the law. To be sure, implementing a massive, nation-wide overhaul of health insurance is going to have some hiccups, as reported by the Government Accountability Office, but in many ways the law is on schedule.
Obamacare’s is struggling in popularity nationwide and many have said this has less to do with the actual law than with people’s misconceptions of it thanks to the GOP. No matter where you stand on the topic, there's no denying that the Affordable Care Act is a massive and complex bill and will likely affect most, if not all Americans. It is important that people be properly informed about their health care options so they can choose the best option for them. And even if you're well informed on the subject and still oppose the law, tough dice. The Supreme Court has already decided that the law is constitutional and its implementation over the next two years is happening no matter what.
Scalise should know this. Louisiana's health care system is in shambles and his cognitive dissonance on the issue is astounding. In a 2012 study, America’s Health Rankings rated Louisiana as having the second-worst health care system in the country along with the nation’s second-highest poverty and obesity rates. Despite this, Louisiana recently voted down a Medicaid expansion bill, which would have covered 400,000 working poor at no cost to the state for the first three years. Essentially, Louisiana has restricted free health care to nearly a half-million people whose wages are lagging far behind their health care costs.
The GOP's obstruction efforts on the law are well known. Governor Bobby Jindal pledged not to enact the mandatory exchanges by their October deadline and Scalise has never strayed from the party line on this issue. All this even though both Jindal and Scalise supported Mitt Romney in his 2012 presidential bid, and it was Romney's Massachusetts health care overhaul that acted as the model for Obamacare. "Romneycare" worked out pretty well and now Massachusetts has 98% insurance enrollment and its citizens overwhelming support the legislation.
Even the education strategy that President Obama's administration is following comes straight from Romney's and the GOP playbook. Last week, The Hill reported HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as saying the administration hoped to copy the success Massachusetts had in implementing their healthcare law with the help of the Boston Red Sox. Sebelius’ said the Obama administration’s strategy is to hopefully encourage enough healthy, young men to buy insurance to keep insurance premiums from rising too drastically when millions of people sign up for health insurance starting this fall.
The reality is that any health care system would be better for Louisiana than what is currently in place, yet Scalise is hoping to prevent people from learning about or enrolling in insurance under Obamacare for reasons that seem purely political. Scalise doesn’t want Louisiana residents to know that federal subsidies will help anyone within 400 percent of the federal poverty line (an annual income of around $45,000 per person in a household) pay for insurance or that his party has worked so hard to block lower and middle class families from affording insurance.
It’s not yet clear if the NBA will follow in the NFL’s footsteps in not supporting Obamacare, but it seems counterintuitive that two professional sports leagues who have spearheaded their own public awareness campaigns about health and fitness and are always quick to point to their charitable efforts. Both the NBA and NFL’s core fanbases fall well within the demographics most impacted by the Affordable Care Act. Both leagues have considerable marketing power and use them without hesitation to sell merchandise or to seek public funds to build stadiums.
This is where the great hypocrisy of this political battle emerges. Scalise signed his letter "Geux Saints and Pelicans", two teams owned by Tom Benson, a man that has received hundreds of millions of public subsidies to maintain professional sports teams in New Orleans. Apparently, Scalise has no problem when tax dollars are spent on building and renovating the Superdome and hosting the Super Bowl, just as Benson and the NFL have no problem taking those funds.
Scalise, once again toeing the party line, thinks the NBA and NFL shouldn't be “coerced into doing [the government’s] dirty work.” That "dirty work" being educating the millions of poor, under- and un-insured citizens of Louisiana and the rest of the U.S. The GOP strategy, now that Obamacare was held up by the Supreme Court, is to keep people uninformed and thus less likely to take advantage of the benefits offered by the law. By most measures, the majority of Louisiana citizens will be helped by the new health care law, but only if Louisiana residents are properly educated about and participate in the exchanges.
Scalise, it seems, doesn't care if the law could benefit his constituents based purely on politics and would rather they continue receiving some of the worst health care in the nation then have a chance for something better.