Jaime Fountaine says her life looks "a little bit more pathetic" than it really feels when set to "sad, sad music" in the pro-health-reform video featuring the 28-year-old Philadelphia barista.
"I think the combination of, like, putting me on the bus in February in my giant coat and the sad piano music makes me look a little—it looks a little bit like I need help or like I'm about to have an intervention," she says.
But jokes aside, Fountaine, a young, uninsured woman, typifies a key demographic the Obama administration is hoping will sign up for insurance under the 2010 health reform law. The short video telling Fountaine's story (and set in bleak, wintry Pennsylvania) is part of that effort. The Health and Human Services Department released "Life Without Health Insurance: Jaime's Story" this spring as part of its outreach campaign in the run-up to the Oct. 1 opening of the new online health insurance marketplaces. Other videos include "I'm Looking Forward to Getting Covered: Malik's Story" and "I Can't Get Health Care: Howard's Story."
Young and healthy enrollees like Fountaine, who tend to have lower medical costs than their older and sicker counterparts, would help keep health care expenses down for everyone as the Affordable Care Act is implemented, so the administration is working hard to reach 11 million uninsured people between the ages of 18 and 35 before this year's open-enrollment period for insurance. Their efforts are being countered by conservative groups, which have mounted their own campaign in opposition to the law—in one instance urging young people to burn fictitious Obamacare "draft cards" rather than sign up for coverage.
Fountaine represents one of the administration's counterarguments to those who say that the health law, which mandates that most Americans have health insurance, is reminiscent of military conscription. In the nearly 2 minute video, she is seen pulling shots of espresso at work and catching a bus on a gray winter day. Gloomy piano music plays as she enters her apartment wearing a large black overcoat. "I don't really have a plan," she says. She's never made more than $20,000 a year. "Honestly, I haven't been to a doctor since my 11th-grade physical," she tells viewers. The music picks up as Fountaine describes the benefits of health insurance: comfort, stability, and safety.
There was no script for the video, she says, and she wasn't paid to appear in it. Fountaine supports the administration's health care law, but she came to star in the government production because of geography. Employees of a local Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services office, which is part of HHS, are frequent customers of the coffee shop where she works, she says. So when the agency was looking to shoot a video about someone without health insurance, Fountaine's name came up. They asked her a few questions. That led to a six-hour video interview, shot on location in the coffee shop as well as in Fountaine's small South Philly apartment.
In the end, Fountaine thinks her portrayal was a "a little bit silly" but that health reform is a serious issue that isn't always accurately portrayed by pundits.
"I don't know if the system that is starting to fall into place is a perfect or ideal or even the best system, but I guess we'll have to find that out when it happens," she says. "But I definitely believe in public health care, and having something is better than having nothing."
But a plurality of Americans are critical of the new law, and that makes implementation tough for the administration as it urges folks to sign up. Just 35 percent of the country views the Affordable Care Act favorably and 43 percent do not, according to the latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, conducted in June.
Even though Fountaine says she's "not an activist by any means," the highly contentious nature of the discussion surrounding health reform is apparent in a comment on the video's YouTube page. An eagle-eyed commenter asserts, "I guarantee I can look at her budget [and] she can afford health care" by cutting expenses but "chooses not to buy it." His evidence? "She has a [S]wiffer [mop] that cost at least $20 to buy and more than a mop to supply it each month." The cleaning instrument is visible in the background of one of the shots of her apartment.
Fountaine plans to look into buying insurance online when the new marketplaces open this fall but hasn't "spent a lot of time on that yet because it's still sort of a while away."
This article appears in the August 9, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.