“Obamacare” goes into effect across the nation today, ushering in a fundamental and sweeping change to our universally acknowledged struggling healthcare industry…and the public hates it. Despite not even knowing what the heck it is.
I would say that this recent clip from ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ (below) says it all, but after you watch it, I’ll say more.
The essence of the clip: according to this CNBC poll, 46% of American oppose “Obamacare”, while only 37% oppose the “Affordable Care Act”…even though they’re THE EXACT SAME THING.
The Affordable Care Act IS “Obamacare” people! Did you know that? If not, you’re not alone. Behold what your fellow dummies had to say on Kimmel. But wait, before you do, I have something good to tell you. Your ignorance, it’s not (totally) your fault. It’s the Obama administration’s fault. They’ve run an abysmal public education campaign to support (or, rather, more accurately, undermine) their own landmark piece of legislation. But more on all of this after Kimmel…
For those of you who didn’t peep the video, some highlights:
Interviewer: “What do you agree with? Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act?”
Yokel in Baltimore Orioles cap: “I’m more sort of toward the Affordable Care Act…”
Interviewer: “So the Affordable Care Act is more affordable than Obamacare…”
Male ‘Jersey Shore’ reject in Lakers jersey exuding class with two – TWO – gold hoop ear-rings: “Just the name says it all.”
And, my personal favorite example of informed democratic debate…
Interviewer: “Do you think Obamacare is socialist?”
Graying Goatee Guy (**with pierced ear! but sans earring): “Yes I do.”
Interviewer: “Do you think the Affordable Care Act is socialist?”
Graying Goatee Guy (**with pierced ear! but sans earring): “No.”
Facing all of us are some inescapable truths (unless you’re a House Republican). The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. The Affordable Care Act is probably not going away. According to CNBC, 30% of the general public don’t know enough about the Affordable Care Act to have an opinion.
This ignorance is the result of a massive, epic fail on the part of the Obama administration to educate the public about what the Affordable Care Act is and how it will effect their lives. This is not the Obama administration’s first epic communications fail. His inability to utilize succinct, colorful, cohesive communications to inform and influence both the American people and Congress is arguably the Achilles heel of his entire Presidency (see most recently: Syria). But that’s a blog for another day. For now, let’s examine what the Obama administration did – or failed to do – when it came to informing the American people about the Affordable Care Act.
BIGGEST FAIL: IT’S CALLED “OBAMACARE”
Practically since the inception of the debate surrounding healthcare reform under President Obama, any iteration of a solution proposed by the President has been labeled by its opponents as “Obamacare”. The prefix, in their minds, is intended to suggest “big government”, “socialism”, “hand outs” and “inefficient bureaucracy”. It’s the kind of partisan messaging that, of course, both parties use but which the GOP specializes in (see: Luntz, Frank and “death tax”). What’s been surprising, and slightly disappointing, is to see the media so enthusiastically adopt the moniker which has an intrinsically negative and partisan meaning. Worse yet, President Obama has been using the term Obamacare, which is sort of the PR equivalent of committing harakiri.
The Obama administration is apparently “all in” on reclaiming the term from its negative connotation, which is why they’re using it. They’re betting that, yeah, in October 2013 Obamacare is a nasty nickname, but in October 2023 it will sound a lot more like “the Monroe Doctrine”. Which wouldn’t be an awful strategy, if polling didn’t clearly suggest – as the Kimmel clip above reinforces – that the American public hates it! And has much more positive associations with the well named Affordable Care Act (Hey, who doesn’t love affordability?). So, to support the successful implementation of the law and heartburn-free education of the public, why not just go with ‘Affordable Care Act’?
From its inception, the Obama administration should’ve categorically rejected the phrase “Obamacare” and instead consistently referred to the law as the Affordable Care Act. This would’ve counteracted negative connotations associated with it and better de-positioned its opponents. “What? You oppose the Affordable Care Act? You’re against millions of needy Americans receiving the affordable healthcare they so badly need??” See what I mean?
PRETTY MUCH JUST AS BIG A FAIL: PEOPLE DON’T KNOW WHAT’S IN IT
Polls have shown that when Americans find out what’s in the Affordable Care Act, they like it, even if they purport to not be crazy about the law as a whole. This poll, ahead of the Affordable Care Act’s Supreme Court ruling in 2012, showed that 56% of Americans opposed the law as a whole. BUT…
- 61 percent of respondents favored allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26
- 72 percent of respondents wish to maintain the requirement that companies with more than 50 workers provide health insurance for their employees
- 82 percent of respondents favored banning insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions
So, who’s fault is it that Americans don’t know what’s in the Affordable Care Act? The Obama administration’s. There should be nothing so easy to sell as good news. And, frankly, as these poll results show, Americans think that the meat of the Affordable Care Act is good news. Why isn’t everybody happy and excited to see it go into effect? Because nobody’s been out there spreading the word. Or nobody you care to hear in any place you’re interested in seeing or hearing about it.
Though the President is doing some press today on the law, he should have been out in front of this for the past several YEARS banging the figurative drum on this key piece of his legacy. There should’ve been an old-school whistle-stop tour of America, taking the good news straight to the people. There should have been celebrity spokespeople educating not just the general public, but key segments of the population that are crucial to the success of the law. Namely young people who must participate to make the insurance pools work. Beliebers for Obamacare, anyone? Dr. Oz flacking for the Affordable Care Act. The ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ cast doing a radio or satellite media tour. Joe Biden going on “Saturday Night Live”. An honest to goodness public education campaign!
Sure, they worked with Funny or Die to get out this Obamacare-themed ‘Scandal’ parody…last week. But where was this stuff last year?
I’m sure that the administration could point to any number of spokespeople doing any number of interviews on a variety of media outlets, all supported by reams of FAQs and Myth-Fact sheets on a myriad of websites. But the bottom-line is – and the polls show – people haven’t seen this material. They’re not talking about this material. They’re sure as heck not educated about this material. It’s not enough to create content, you also have to find a way to creatively, artfully and, most importantly, impactfully distribute, content and information. If an Affordable Care Act falls in the woods…
FINAL FAIL – NOT APPEALING TO OUR BETTER ANGELS
In all likelihood, you don’t need “Obamacare”, but somebody less fortunate than you that you know does.
In an excellent breakdown of the Affordable Care Act by The Washington Post, they note that, “If you get health insurance through your employer or the government — as 80 percent of Americans do — it’s very unlikely that you’ll interact with Obamacare’s coverage expansion at all.”
You know who does need it, and who it’s designed to help? (Again from The Washington Post):
Obamacare mostly matters most for the 20 percent of Americans who are either uninsured or get insurance on the individual (or “non-group”) market. Anyone in those groups can get insurance through Obamacare. Those who make more than the federal poverty line, but less than four times the poverty line ($94,200 for a family of four), can buy subsidized insurance on the marketplaces. Those making less than 133 percent of the poverty line, and living in a state that has accepted the Medicaid expansion, can get Medicaid.
The Congressional Budget Office expects that the Affordable Care Act will cover about 14 million of the uninsured in 2014 and 25 million by the end of the decade. That still leaves about 30 million people uninsured. More on them here.
That’s right, the uninsured, the poor, and folks who would’ve been denied by insurance companies before for pre-existing conditions. About 30 million or so people – roughly 1 in 10 Americans – who were excluded or under-served by the pre-Obamacare health system. Folks whose lack of adequate coverage could lead to massive medical bills resulting in personal bankruptcies and ruined lives. Folks who chose to suffer from debilitating illnesses instead of seeking care which they knew they couldn’t afford. Folks who would show up at emergency rooms seeking care for which they wouldn’t be denied, but that every American ultimately footed the bill for – which is a terribly inefficient and unfair way to run a healthcare system.
The Obama administration has allowed themselves to be backed into a corner when it comes to the purpose and effects of the Affordable Care Act. Conservative talking points about the possible negative impacts to small businesses and the lack of “freedom” as a result of the law’s “individual mandate” requiring people to purchase insurance have dominated media coverage and public perception.
What’s been lost in all of the rhetoric is that, by and large, this law is about helping Americans who need help. It’s about empowering the disadvantaged and, in the process, making the healthcare system more fair, equitable and efficient for all. Call me old fashioned or sentimental, but I still believe that, when appropriately called to action, Americans rally around the idea of helping fellow Americans and making our society a bit better for the less fortunate. Virtually nowhere in the rhetoric surrounding the healthcare debate have their been appeals to the American people to support healthcare reform most simply because it helps people who need help.
Obama is an incredibly cerebral president. He’s been accused of being professorial, aloof and above partisan rhetoric, viewing it as demeaning, while simultaneously expecting ‘the American people’ to have the sophistication to see through B.S. and make wise decisions for their common good.
Well, as H.L. Menken is often (slightly mis-)quoted as saying, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” (The real quote is: “No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the record for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”)
Obama, however, has spent a painfully dear sum of his political capital in the process of that fatally consistent underestimation. And, in the end, it’s the American people who are paying for it. The Affordable Care Act is designed to help the American people. By most projections, the Affordable Care Act will help the American people, or the people in America who need the most help. It’s just a shame that the American people don’t know enough about it to help themselves. If the president had spoken more plainly or clearly about it from the very beginning, perhaps we would.
To help YOU, understand the Affordable Care Act, here is a video from the Kaiser Family Foundation: