After weeks of radio silence from the press, it appears we are finally having some type of national debate over the newly renamed “Restoring America's Health Care Freedom Reconciliation Act,” better known as “Senate Republicans' backroom attempt to secretly overhaul the U.S. health care system."
A recent report by the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office revealed on Monday that the GOP plan would leave 22 million people without health insurance and radically increase costs for a large swath of Americans.
Due to the bill’s unpopularity and the opaque nature of the sausage-making process, media outlets have been starved for pundits willing to go in front of a camera or put their names on op-eds to support it. Luckily, one stand-alone pundit is willing to go to bat for the toxic piece of legislation—Avik Roy, who managed to get the most coveted media spots in the universe this past week, writing in breathless, infomercial tones on the benefits of the bill:
- Interview in Vox: The Senate health care bill’s biggest fan makes the case for it
- Op-ed in Washington Post: The Senate’s health-care bill could be one of the GOP’s greatest accomplishments
- Interview on MSNBC
- Interview on CNN
- Op-ed in New York Times: The Senate’s Secretly Bipartisan Health Bill
- Interview with NPR’s On Point
- Recurring op-ed in Forbes: The New Senate Republican Bill Will Transform American Health Care, CBO Predictions About The Senate Health Care Bill Are Deeply Flawed
Avik Roy’s primary function is to be the Reasonable Conservative and lobby centrists and liberals in their own media spaces that their worries about smoke-filled backroom Republican health care plans are unwarranted. This is done with a mix of “aw, shucks” nuance trolling and warmed-over discredited claims that health care coverage does not, in fact, affect mortality.
This isn’t a post about the substance of Avik Roy’s argument. Lots of otherwriters have written about his claims and sought to debunk them. This post is about whether the source of his funding and his sudden rise as the face of the otherwise faceless, secret GOP plan is worth an ounce of scrutiny. Given his enthusiastic and unqualified spin (even before anyone knew what was in the legislation), some, such as MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid, have understandably begun to question Roy's motives.
Avik Roy and others involved with his generically named Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity have ties to far-right billionaires through the Manhattan Institute and other organizations. FREOPP itself is associated with the Koch-backed State Policy Network, but FREOPP’s website does not reveal any of its donors, nor does it share its tax number, as most nonprofits do.
This could be because FREOPP is a new corporation (it was founded in May 2016), but neither the firm nor Roy responded to multiple questions via email and Twitter about who funds the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.
Others are noticing the sudden importance of the heretofore obscure think tank. FREOPP is "a very official-sounding think tank that popped up in 2016 seemingly just to orchestrate a repeal of the Affordable Care Act," The New Republic's Cilo Chang wrote.
The online address for Roy’s “think tank" is for a P.O. Box inside a UPS store in Austin. The physical address on record for the state of Texas for FREOPP is Roy’s personal home in Austin.
Also unclear is whether Roy is helping write the legislation itself. As New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait notes, Roy certainly isn’t saying he isn’t:
Roy emails back: “As a matter of policy, I don’t discuss with the press my conversations with policymakers.” So, if you’re curious whether he helped write the plan he has been touting in a number of op-eds and interviews, Roy isn’t saying, but “yes” seems like a fairly safe assumption.
It’s romantic to think that a scrappy, startup think tank could have so much influence on the single most consequential piece of legislation in a generation, but an ounce of disclosure would be helpful. Transparency is key with all nonprofits and think tanks--why should Roy’s be any different? People have a right to know if he’s little more than a glorified lobbyist for a specific industry or billionaire or if he’s just an earnest, totally normal guy who just happens to like gutting health coverage for millions.