Trump’s In-Law Is Trying to Make Billions Off Obamacare
Donald Trump has called Obamacare “a horror,” “a big, fat, horrible lie,” and a “total catastrophe.” When the presidential candidate revealed his plan in March to repeal Obamacare, he began by saying that the American people have “[suffered] under the incredible economic burden” of the Affordable Care Act. But one of Trump’s in-laws has turned Obamacare into an economic boon for his multibillion-dollar health care startup, Oscar Health. Perhaps you’ve seen their cutesy subway ads, billboards, or TV commercial?
Trump’s daughter Ivanka is married to real estate scion Jared Kushner, who has been joining his father-in-law onstage at campaign events. “Jared is a very, very successful real estate entrepreneur in Manhattan,” Trump told supporters last month, during his victory party for the New Hampshire primary. Jared’s brother is venture capitalist Joshua Kushner, who co-founded Oscar Health, a health insurance company that describes itself as “the first health insurance company created for consumers in the new world of the Affordable Care Act.” The company launched in New York state in 2013 as a licensed health care provider selling to individuals and families in the marketplaces created by Obamacare.
“I don’t think we could do this without Obamacare,” Oscar co-founder and CEO Mario Schlosser told the Washington Post in 2013. “You’d have to break into a market that’s been pretty ‘oligopolized’ with big insurers catering to brokers, agency houses and big employers. But now we have a direct connection to the consumer.”
Forbes called Oscar the “Obamacare startup” in a headline about its $1.5 billion valuation last April. Since then, Oscar’s estimated value has almost doubled: A few weeks ago, the company got $400 million investment from Fidelity at a $2.7 billion valuation.
Oscar claims to offer consumers a more accessible and user-friendly insurance option neatly packaged with a youthful and techie vibe. (Membership cards are mailed in the same kind of box as an iPhone.) The three-year-old company has raised more than $727 million in three years for the concept.
In interviews, Kushner has said he had the idea of tackling health care after he tried to decipher an insurance bill. “I’m overeducated and I had no idea what it all meant,” he told New York magazine in 2014. Kushner co-founded the company with two of his friends from Harvard Business School, and they timed Oscar’s launch so that it dovetailed with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. The magazine also reported that “a pair of Obama 2012 operatives were brought onboard to oversee” Oscar’s canvassing campaign before the open-enrollment deadline.
Oscar launched as more of a software layer, relying on other companies to process claims and set up provider networks. But Oscar has since expanded in Texas and California with a different model that narrows its network of doctors and hospitals in order to minimize losses and builds its process and systems from scratch.
An Oscar spokesperson declined to answer questions from BuzzFeed News about Kushner and his company’s political position. But in December, the same week that the GOP frontrunner bashed Obamacare in a town hall meeting, the White House announced that it was working with Oscar Health and one other startup (Zocdoc, a website for booking doctors’ appointments) to advertise Obamacare coverage. Oscar created a brief PSA targeted at the uninsured. “We are incredibly motivated by the support the White House has shown us today on this initiative and are proud to share this video we created on just how simple it is to sign up for an affordable plan through the ACA,” the company wrote on its blog.
There are obviously a few degrees of remove between Trump and the tech company founder. There’s no easy shorthand to describe their connection, although both are listed as relatives on each other’s Wikipedia pages. But the Kushners — once high-profile Democratic donors — have become a source of fascination as Jared Kushner continues to join his wife on the Trump campaign trail.
Charles Kushner, father to Jared and Joshua, was one of the largest Democratic donors in America, before his notorious fall from grace after pleading guilty to illegal campaign donations and tax evasion. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who recently joined Trump onstage to endorse his candidacy, was the U.S. attorney prosecuting the case. Kushner had been the primary patron of New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey.
The elder Kushner paid about half million dollars in civil penalties for making contributions in the name of his real estate partnerships without permission. OpenSecrets showed more than 50 donations made in Joshua Kushner’s name, all to Democratic candidates and causes. The donations started in 1992 when Joshua was 7 years old. Twenty-one of the donations were made in Joshua’s name before he was old enough to vote.
Kushner’s political position is particularly interesting given Trump’s tirades against Silicon Valley executives, who have not made their feelings about the candidate known. Last month, Trump called for a boycott of Apple for its refusal to cooperate with the FBI over the San Bernardino killings. But the Verge pointed out today that the GOP frontrunner is back to tweeting from his iPhone. Earlier this week, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk dispelled reports of a “secretive meeting” between Republicans and tech CEOs at the American Enterprise Institute’s annual World Forum about how to stop Donald Trump. Musk tweeted that he was there to talk about Mars and sustainable energy, clarifying that it had “nothing to do with Trump,” but did he did not share his views about the candidate.
In his business dealings at least, Kushner seems to be party agnostic. One of the partners of Thrive Capital — which Joshua Kushner also founded, and which is an investor in Oscar — is Jared Weinstein, who served as a trusted personal aide or “body man” to President George W. Bush from 2006 to 2009.
Disclosure: The author of this post was previously employed as a reporter for the New York Observer, which is owned by Jared Kushner.