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Bankrupt Oregon Exchange Wastes Money on Hip-Hop and Folk Videos

1:01 PM, Sep 19, 2013 • By JACOB RESES
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As Ben Schachter explained earlier this month in THE WEEKLY STANDARD, the implementation of Obamacare has been especially hard on creative professionals, whose trade associations have been forced to eliminate various cost-effective insurance offerings due to the law’s mandates. But uninsured artists reading Schachter’s piece need not despair entirely. Some might instead consider moving to Oregon, where Obamacare has already proven to be a boon for the arts.

Despite facing a $16.2 million shortfall this year due to an accounting error, the state’s insurance exchange, Cover Oregon, has budgeted about $20 million (mostly in federal tax dollars) for outreach efforts, which so far have included commissioning a series of music videos promoting the exchange.

Perhaps out of a noble desire to preserve participating musicians’ artistic integrity, the state appears to have imposed few if any content requirements on the artists writing songs for the promotional videos. Despite the enormous expense to taxpayers represented by the ad campaign, it's cleqr some of the costly advertisements have nothing at all to do with Oregon’s Obamacare exchange.

The hip-hop group Lifesavas, for example, used taxpayer dollars to make a music video about a fun house party.

According to Vursatyl, one of the members of Lifesavas, the only instructions given to the group were to emulate Schoolhouse Rock and “not to get too political. Keep everyone in mind.” That lack of guidance shows. The song’s message that “Life is a jewel, a gem, a treasure” is unobjectionable, but it also has nothing to do with Obamacare. And aside from one vague mention of “the care you deserve” and a brief flash of Cover Oregon’s logo, the ad makes absolutely no reference to the state exchange. Nonetheless, Mark Ray, co-owner of an ad agency paid $9.9 million for the music video campaign, seems inclined to think the ad was effective at getting its point—whatever that was supposed to be—across.

“We were blown away by how good the track was … and how much thought they put into the lyrics and song,” Ray told local press upon the ad’s release.

Taxpayer-funded music videos by folk artists Dave Depper and Laura Gibson have barely been more pertinent, and Oregonians have started to notice. One resident recently complained to a local paper, “They look more like tourism ads for the state. For all the viewer can see, Cover Oregon could be a house paint. A folk singer playing his guitar in the middle of a creek does not tell anything about health insurance changes under [Obamacare].”

Oregonians concerned that the ad campaign is a waste of money should remember, however, that coverage expansion was but one of many of the goals of Obamacare’s authors. In selling the bill in 2010, Nancy Pelosi explained, “We see it as an entrepreneurial bill—a bill that says to someone, if you want to be creative and be a musician or whatever, you can leave your work, focus on your talent, your skill, your passion, your aspirations. …” Given all the failed promises of Obamacare, there is something admirable about Cover Oregon’s attempts to make good on this one by financing the work of the state’s musicians.

Hopefully federal taxpayers won’t mind footing the bill for all of this state-commissioned music while Oregon’s Obamacare exchange remains in the red.

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