Oscar Health Insurance: “Bike Messengers Can Blindside You”

Health insurance company Oscar is banking on fear and loathing of cyclists. Photo: Danielle Kosecki/Twitter

Health insurance company Oscar is banking on fear and loathing of cyclists. Photo: Danielle Kosecki/Twitter

Here’s one for the tone-deaf PR file.

Oscar, a “startup” health insurance company helmed by real estate heir and venture capitalist Joshua Kushner (brother of Observer publisher Jared Kushner), is hoping to sign up young, tech-savvy New Yorkers in need of health coverage. To do this, the company has launched an ad campaign that features this message: “Bike messengers can blindside you. Medical bills shouldn’t.”

Bike messengers, who are less common on NYC’s streets today than they were a decade or two ago, tend to be scapegoated like this — the embodiment of all that is fearsome about city traffic.

Statewide, the economic cost of car crashes in terms of medical expenses and lost productivity is in the billions. Last year, 168 pedestrians and 10 cyclists died in NYC traffic, while more than 4,000 cyclists and 16,000 pedestrians were injured. The last time a New York City cyclist killed a pedestrian was April 2009, when Stuart Gruskin was killed by a wrong-way delivery cyclist on a Midtown street.

Fashion magazine editor Danielle Kosecki, who also rides with a NYC-based women’s cycling team, saw the insurer’s ad on a recent subway ride and was not impressed. She tweeted to the company and called the ad “fear mongering.”

Other health insurance companies have embraced cycling as a way to market themselves in a positive light and encourage their customers to stay fit. And organizations like the Centers for Disease Control, the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics not only see traffic crashes as preventable but encourage active transportation to improve health.

Oscar didn’t have anything to say in reply to Kosecki’s tweet except, “Our customers know what they can expect to pay for doctor visits, procedures, etc. That’s all this ad is about: price. #transparency” Streetsblog asked the company if it had any other response to criticism of the campaign. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.