Obamacare Goes to Hollywood

Presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett is in Los Angeles “nagging," to use her words, Hollywood to insert Obamacare into TV and movie scripts. Plenty of actors and actresses are already promoting Obamacare, including Jennifer Hudson, Lady Gaga, and Scarlett Johansson. Athletes too, including Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Ms. Jarrett’s recent push seems unnecessary since the administration reached its (revised) goal of 6 million enrollees by March 31. Woe is it to any Hollywood director who turns down Ms. Jarrett’s requests. Remember what happened in The Godfather to the movie director denying Johnny Fontane a role in an upcoming movie? Luca Brasi convinced him to change his mind after he found the severed head of his prized racehorse in his bed.

How might Obamacare be inserted into TV and movie scripts? Suppose Walter White of Breaking Bad, when diagnosed with cancer, was able to choose a new insurance policy from the Obamacare exchange? Instead of cooking meth to pay his medical bills, his cancer treatment would have been covered. Think of the saved lives – Hank Schrader, Gus Fring, and Uncle Hector, among many others. So far so good. Yet as a public school teacher in Albuquerque, he should already have had “quality healthcare coverage” according to the school district web site. Also to be woven into the script is the inconvenient fact that, “Obamacare is denied at most cancer hospitals” according to an Associated Press Survey. So Walter might be back to cooking meth in order to receive care at a top cancer center. Perhaps that can portion of the story can be delayed until after the midterm elections.

Grey’s Anatomy is another top rated TV drama, set at a prestigious teaching hospital in Seattle. The doctors, when not romping with each other in the on-call room, manage interesting and challenging patients.  The doctors capably handle the most bizarre cases that in medical school we referred to as facinomas. And they take all comers through their emergency room, never a word about insurance or networks. So far so good. But in the real world, if you buy insurance through the Washington insurance exchange, you will find only three insurance plans that cover treatment at Seattle Children’s Hospital, none of them major national carriers. For any Walter Whites in Seattle with advanced lung cancer, “Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is excluded by five out of eight insurers in Washington state's insurance exchange," according to an Associated Press survey. The fictitious Seattle-Grace Hospital in Grey’s Anatomy would likely be in the same boat. In the story line, the hospital is on par with Stanford, Mayo Clinic, and Cleveland Clinic and would find itself excluded from most Obamacare exchange insurance plans just like the real top tier hospitals. Meaning Drs. Grey, Yang, Shepard, and Bailey would not be seeing the facinomas they see in the TV show. The good news is that the residents and attendings in Grey’s Anatomy would have even more time for affairs and on-call room hook ups.

Ms. Jarrett might turn her energies to the major news networks, encouraging them to emphasize positive stories and minimize negative news about Obamacare. Never mind that’s happening already. After four years singing the praises of Obamacare, ABC/NBC/CBS evening news broadcasts devoted less than one percent of their broadcast time in 2014 to the myriad problems of Obamacare.

If Obamacare is as wonderful as its supporters say, why Ms. Jarrett’s push for more Hollywood marketing? The celebrities are already pushing it, even before her recent visit. Good products sell themselves, without needing a push from Hollywood, the iPhone being an example. One of the marketing techniques of selling something no one wants to buy is to “find your influencers”, precisely what Ms. Jarrett is doing in Hollywood. With only 24 percent public support for Obamacare in a recent poll, she has her work cut out for her.

Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based physician, is an advocate of smaller, more efficient government. Twitter @retinaldoctor.


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