Power Play

Barack Obama, Insurance Salesman

President Obama wants you to buy health insurance. Like, a lot.

The president has undertaken a months-long effort to convince people, particularly the Millennials who populate his political base, to give their business to America’s largest insurance companies. This sounds odd for a guy who used a populist pitchforking of “big insurance” to goose his health law over the finish line in 2010.

But it’s not as odd as you might think. Obama built his law in private in conjunction with the same companies he was skewering in public. The same goes for the drug companies that were the preferred targets of Democrats for most of the pre-ObamaCare era. Why?

Unable to unite his party behind his vision for a government-run insurance program open to all Americans, Obama outsourced the sales job to insurance and drug companies to get the deal done. His pitchfork routine was in part about gaining an upper hand in negotiations with his insurance and PhRMA  partners, but mostly about appeasing liberal lawmakers who were unhappy that Obama’s more liberal vision had vanished. They got Hillary Clinton’s health law even though they elected Obama. But it was insurance and drug lobbyists who did the hard work of squeezing moderates into the already unpopular plan. They sold what Obama could not.

Now, it’s his turn.

Polifact’s latest scorecard found that Obama has kept 45 percent of his campaign promises. But one promise on which he absolutely needs to deliver is the one to insurance and drug companies to send millions of young, healthy customers through their doors. Even with lots of free stuff to give away, it’s proving difficult.

Republicans once worried a great deal about ObamaCare’s mandates, and perhaps one day the penalties under the law will be so great that people will be dragged into coverage. But for now, the problem with the law is more about people blowing off the mandate.


This is understandable since the law actually provides a perverse discouragement from people buying insurance. The president, who sounds like their parents, is telling young people to take precautions and buy insurance, just in case. But his law has eliminated the “in case” part. Starting Tuesday, insurance companies can no longer deny anyone coverage. If you go your whole life without a policy and get diagnosed with a terrible ailment, you will still be able to purchase insurance, which kind of defeats the whole idea of insurance. What had been an exercise in risk tolerance now includes no risk at all.

The solution was supposed to be that the federal government would force people to buy insurance, thereby evening out the waves in the risk pool. But, again, because the president couldn’t build a coalition for his law among Democrats, he ended up with a half-hearted mandate. The result is that people who didn’t want to buy insurance before have lost the risk formerly attendant to not buying coverage and it will only cost them $95 next year.

And since every day brings some new, unhappy headline about the law – the IRS losing track of tens of millions of dollars in funds, more employers dumping workers or coverage, more unions demanding fixes, more worries about data security, more confusion about costs and coverage and always more news about higher and higher premiums – it may sound like a good idea to wait, enjoy the new mandatory coverage rules, pay the small fine out of your 2015 tax refund and see what happens.

So, Obama is hitting the sales circuit, knocking on the doors of his supporters to ask that they check out the latest offerings from his partners at big insurance. And by the way, try some of these delicious new full-price pharmaceuticals. Guaranteed non-imported.

It’s not as if Obama likely feels some deep desire to make good on his word to insurance companies and drug makers. There’s no commission arrangement. But what he does know is that if he can’t get enough of his supporters through the doors for his partners, premiums are going to rise even more than expected. And that means broad-based resistance to the law will grow and that means the chances for it eventually being entirely or substantially replaced grow, too.

Like Ashton Kutcher and other early-adopting celebrities on Twitter, Obama has turned his onetime grassroots network into a sales platform for product placement and for steering fans into the grasp of marketers.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News.  His Power Play column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays at FoxNews.com. Catch Chris live online weekdays at 11:30 am ET.  Read his “Fox News First” newsletter published each weekday morning. Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.