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Obamacare is the worst new-product rollout in memory

Three years after the passage of the new health care law, Americans understand very little about the program.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed in early 2010, but perhaps the largest piece of the health care law is just now coming into view.
Courtesy of Obama for America

Obamacare is giving marketing a bad name. Regardless of what you think about the merits of the health care reform, there’s no doubt that it’s been the worst new-product rollout in memory.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed in early 2010, but perhaps the largest piece of the health care law is just now coming into view. On Oct. 1, many currently uninsured Americans will have the opportunity to enroll in the health care exchanges created by Obamacare, giving them the opportunity to buy health insurance.

Yet three years after the passage of Obamacare — which itself took place after two years of heated, publicized debate — Americans understand very little about the program. In fact, a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly half of all Americans (44 percent) don’t realize that Obamacare is actually the law of the land. Fewer than one in four Americans has gotten any information recently about the health care law from a doctor, a health care organization, a federal agency or a state agency.

That’s just nuts. With three years to inform the public about the new law, the federal government has failed miserably. If this were a new car, a new soft drink or a new movie, people would be getting fired. And yet this particular product is going to directly affect as many as 40 million Americans and indirectly affect most of the rest.

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Certainly, efforts to inform the public have been affected by ongoing resistance to the law by Republicans in Congress. In addition, the legality of Obamacare wasn’t fully settled until a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2012.

But those are not excuses for failing to mount an effective information campaign on the health care law. It’s a complex issue that even well-informed citizens often don’t fully understand. The low-information citizen has virtually no chance of grasping this topic without simple, clear and repeated messaging.

Immediately after the health care act passed in 2010, the Obama administration should have launched an aggressive, widespread, ongoing public information campaign using all possible channels: print and broadcast advertising, digital and social media. They should have enlisted celebrity spokespeople to make public service announcements and public appearances. They should have sponsored fun events and had information booths at concerts, fairs and sporting events. They should have enlisted major health care organizations to partner with them on these efforts.

Instead, this president’s signature legislative accomplishment — and one of the major new public programs of the past 50 years — is shrouded in mystery and confusion even as it’s getting under way.

There was a lot of time to get this program launch right. Even basic blocking and tackling would have had a tremendous impact. It’s absolutely unfathomable that it wasn’t done.