Obamacare is the worst new-product rollout in memory

Courtesy of Obama for America
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.

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.

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.

Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by richard owens on 09/09/2013 - 09:28 am.

    Even a “marketing guy” should have noticed:

    The PPACA has been victimized by a powerful, well-financed “rollout” of disinformation, fear mongering and outright LIES.

    In addition, plans to finance a rollout/education program were stymied by a reactionary refusal to FUND IT!

    Not even a partnership with the NFL was allowed by the ever-vigilant forces opposing the law.

    Mr. Reinan, your attempt at explaining American ignorance of the PPACA actually continues the obfuscation, by neither analyzing the role of FOX, Limbaugh, Tea Partiers in the rollout failure, but continuing the disinformation by saying “the federal government has failed miserably”.

    btw, who could predict governors who would deny healthcare itself by refusing Medicaid money when it would have helped their citizens immensely?


    I’d like to know if you wrote this to HELP or HURT the future of the PPACA?

    • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 09/10/2013 - 09:08 pm.

      Perhaps some governors

      Would wait until the feds constructed their plan (at great cost) and then after seeing what worked and what didn’t, create their own plan (at a much smaller cost) which would be superior to the fed plan. Letting someone else make (and pay for the mistakes) seems prudent in these days of tight budgets. I pity the poor folks trying to create the state plans when the feds weren’t giving them guidelines and requirements.

  2. Submitted by jody rooney on 09/09/2013 - 10:19 am.

    Thank you Mr. Owens

    I learned more in your comment than I did in the article. I haven’t seen Mr. Reinan’s articles before but if he is new to Minnpost he better bring his A game because readers here know their stuff.

  3. Submitted by Bruce Johnson on 09/09/2013 - 10:36 am.

    This was the first in Minnpost’s new Concern Troll series. If you have a fake concern please consider submitting a piece.

    • Submitted by David Paton on 09/14/2013 - 09:24 am.

      your comment

      There you go doing all you can to suppress a contra-view. How can anyone say this has been successful and/or lack thereof is due to “tea party obfuscation”? Look at the on-the-fly amendments and delays! Look at all the unanswered questions or missing information! If this is such breakthrough legislation why are so many involved insisting on a cloak of secrecy on the “details” until 10/1? I would suggest that it feels a little like it’s being made up on the fly. Is there any accountability? The $750,000 recently “allocated” to address the minority outreach question? Where did that come from and is it part of a specific budget or part of a murky “other” category? Rejection is another way of asking for more info/detail, so provide it!

  4. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 09/09/2013 - 11:09 am.


    Don’t get the Bruce Johnson comment at all.

    Anyway..,.I went to the MNcare web site this weekend to see what it would cost me if I didn’t have health insurance through my employer. I doubt you could design a worse web site. I wasn’t able to sort through the options and zones and levels and reimbursements and all the rest to figure it out. It looked like the web site a tea party person would design to keep people away.

    • Submitted by Lora Jones on 09/09/2013 - 01:15 pm.


      The MNSure website, while basic, doesn’t seem all that bad to me. Remember, it isn’t really up and running until October 1, so it isn’t surprising that the information is pretty generic.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 09/09/2013 - 04:36 pm.

      I get it

      More big business rubbish

  5. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 09/09/2013 - 11:10 am.

    You would think that a Fast Horse would

    know that the race is not always to the Swiftest.

    Congratulations to Babe and Paul for a wonderful marketing job. The DFL and the Governor deserve high marks for their participation in making O’care a success in Minnesota. The GOP of today might want to take the advice of former chair Shortridge – also in today’s MinnPost:

    “You have to be effective. Effective conservatives, that’s my mantra. I want effective conservatives. I do not want people who are the loudest or who can throw out the craziest sound bite or who are on talk radio or Fox News the most. I want people who can actually get things done. And I think many of my brethren on the right—here and around the country—are becoming sort of similarly acclimated. They look around and go, ‘I don’t recognize this anymore.’ We better get our act together before it’s too late.”

  6. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/09/2013 - 12:18 pm.

    Those Americans who follow this know that there hasn’t been funding to do the positive marketing that this writer misses on Obamacare. That’s after the Supreme Court near-death experience.

    The right has tons of money to throw at attempts to destroy the Affordable Care Act–Fox TV is rife with anti-Obamacare misinformation, for example. Misinformation is a huge part of the problem: misguided and negative lies and distortions about the program. No wonder most Americans don’t have a clue.

    Meanwhile, both a number of state governments, including Minnesota, and the federal government are throwing their money into making sure the program works–it’s got price differences and other differences in every state (universal health care would be a great deal simpler).

    Hard to market a moving target like that. Minnesota is trying, and Thank God we got enough Democrats back in state government in time to give this necessary health insurance reform a shot.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 09/09/2013 - 01:48 pm.

      Give an example, Connie

      Can you think of an example of “lies and distortions” that you refer to?

      The people want to know what the plan options are and how much it’s going to cost. Is that too much to ask? Apparently it is since we’re told that information isn’t available yet.

  7. Submitted by Kevin Watterson on 09/09/2013 - 01:07 pm.

    I agree.

  8. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 09/09/2013 - 01:28 pm.

    There are plenty of things one can critique the affordable care act on, including the fact that it relies on the highly inefficient (and highly profitable) private health insurance model to delver the expanded access. That said, it is better than the status quo (a low bar, admittedly).

    As for the writer’s assertion that this was the “worst new product roll-out in memory”, this is at best a failure to understand differences between legislation and the way a company markets a product, at worst it’s a deliberate distortion to fuel the “it’s going so badly we better repeal it (again)” drumbeat of the radical right.

    When a private business rolls out a new produce, it doesn’t do so with a minority wing of the company working as hard as it can to delay, repeal, or otherwise devalue the product. It doesn’t typically deal with a supreme court challenge introducing a cloud of uncertainty for a year f the buildup. It doesn’t have the full propaganda arm of the right actively telling consumers how terrible their new product is, and how it makes them less free.

    So please, don’t act like this could have been a smooth launch of some benign product, that all would be happily embracing if only it was marketed better. It’s an insult to all of us who follow the news. Try this piece at one of the local conservative sites– they’ll eat it up.

  9. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 09/09/2013 - 01:32 pm.

    Another “Business” Guy….

    …believing that Gov’t is like Business. I’m sure a huge marketing budget bwould have sat well with taxpayers.

  10. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 09/09/2013 - 01:35 pm.

    It’s simple

    It’s in the democrats’ best interest to keep all this on the down low.

    If they had to explain it (even if they could) they’d be thrown out of office and they know it.

    Now Obama has delayed implementation of the employer mandate part of it until 2015 so the democrats don’t have to run on it or answer any questions about that part of it.

  11. Submitted by Tim Milner on 09/09/2013 - 01:40 pm.

    Obama and his administration

    have certainly given the right plenty of ammunition to right wingers. They have shown an inability to administratively set up the program that was signed into law.

    For example, just last Thursday, Sept. 5, the IRS finally issued it’s DRAFT proposal on the employer mandate. That’s DRAFT – not final ruling – on the financial penalties and tax implications for the employer mandate.

    It only took 3 and 1/2 years to get to this point where businesses have some firm (as firm as an IRS draft can be) guidance. There is nothing that any Republican/Tea Partier?Right Wing Blowhard did to delay this. From my perspective, this is all about poor administration.

    And there are other examples. So if we want to shut up the repeal crowd, maybe Obama and his administration could expedite the rules and regulations a little bit faster than what they currently are doing.

  12. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 09/09/2013 - 02:00 pm.

    Reinan – you have a poor memory

    The Iraq war “product” rollout was a million times worse – full of lies, stupid strategy, and a gruesome death toll. No comparison unless one is a defense contractor or works for one.

    • Submitted by David Paton on 09/14/2013 - 09:57 am.

      your comment

      Let’s look at reality…the roster of those that approved Iraq was truly bipartisan. The circumstances in Syria were recently characterized as “Our high-confidence assessment is the strongest position that the U.S. intelligence community can take SHORT OF CONFIRMATION”. Saddam Hussein REALLY DID kill more iragi citizens than the US alleges Assad did in Syria (though that number hasn’t been supported by others) but apparently that’s different. Also, the “faulty” intelligence that served to support the Iraq war was generated by the same intelligence infrastructure as now though it could be worse given that the guy running the show now (Clapper) recently lied, sorry, mislead, congress about the NSA mess.

  13. Submitted by Rosalind Kohls on 09/09/2013 - 02:12 pm.


    The Obamacare legislation is so huge and complex even its advocates don’t understand it all. It’s difficult to promote something that is 2,000 pages long, is being changed every time we turn around, and you still haven’t read the whole thing.

  14. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 09/09/2013 - 03:02 pm.

    The vast majority of people don’t understand the basics…

    …of health care insurance in the first place.

    From http://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2013/08/10/americans-dont-understand-insurance-let-alone-obamacare-study-shows/,
    “Researchers looked at two surveys of Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 who have private coverage. Among their findings, researchers uncovered that just 14 percent of respondents had an understanding of the most basic insurance concepts of “deductible, copay, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum.”

    And that’s just “the most basic” concepts !! Yet you can understand THESE basic concepts and STILL not know much about your health insurance – not enough, say, to make a well-informed decision about it.

    So to say that ObamaCare should be abandoned because it is confusing to the public is like saying calculus should be abandoned by all because it is confusing to third graders, who struggle with long division.

    For people to have a meaningful understanding of ObamaCare, they MUST FIRST have a meaningful understanding of health care insurance in general.

    They do not have that basic understanding, they are not going to acquire it in the short term, and probably not in the long term, either. Combine this fundamental ignorance with all these attacks on the ACA, and it’s nigh unto impossible for the public to really get a meaningful understanding of the ACA.

    However, even the elderly have a good enough understanding of Medicare to know what it will do and won’t do for them. It is comparatively simple, even though its provisions and features have become more sophisticated over the years. If the entire public had been simply rolled into the Medicare system, the current confusion would not fill the air. See http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20056239-503544.html, where it is stated that “According to the new poll, 61 percent of Americans think Medicare is currently worth the costs.”. The public is not so confused about Medicare, it’s private insurance and the ACA that has them scratching their heads.

  15. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 09/09/2013 - 04:32 pm.

    This would have been better and simpler…

    if it had been single payer. The dems made that compromise to try to placate the right and all it did is weaken their cause and this program. Just gave them a bigger target.

  16. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 09/09/2013 - 04:35 pm.

    what little I learned from the web site…

    was that this insurance will be more costly than my employer-subsidized health care but about a fourth or a third of the cost of cobra if I got laid off. Only a tea party person who is on job-provided health care could call that a bad thing.

  17. Submitted by Lyn Crosby on 09/09/2013 - 05:27 pm.

    there’s no doubt

    “there’s no doubt that it’s been the worst new-product rollout in memory……”

    Umm, yes there is doubt. After reading the article (aka “personal opinion” and comments posted so far, I disagree.

    What is your personal ax to grind?

    It ain’t perfect, but I look forward to my son and other currently-insurance-less people, being able to have a benefit that I have. A benefit my eye – it’s a necessity. And we need MORE done to modernize health care in this country, make it available to ALL, and make it AFFORDABLE!

  18. Submitted by Lyn Crosby on 09/09/2013 - 05:31 pm.

    PS, John Reinan, I can hear the conservatives screaming if public funds were spent to advertise the health care law, use celebrities, etc. as you propose!!

  19. Submitted by richard owens on 09/09/2013 - 05:53 pm.

    Want more info on ObamaCare?

    Check out Bill Clinton’s speech (5 days ago at the Arkansas Presidential Library.)

    Lots of information, including critical problem areas, all discussed clearly by Bill’s speech:



    The official site, a very clear place to learn how ObamaCare affects you and your family:



    You could ask Speaker Boehner or Sara Palin about the law.

  20. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 09/09/2013 - 08:11 pm.

    worst new product roll-out?

    Steve is right. The public has been seriously misled and misinformed by all the chatter from the right that persists in trying to destroy it. The problem is, of course, that to get anything passed, the administration had to give private insurance companies huge gifts. Insurance companies will continue to make vast amounts of money. If the administration had been able to follow a Medicare-like model, there would not be all the confusion that the right is trying to leverage into wholesale doubt and opposition. Insurance companies and all their right-wing cohorts have vast amounts of money; the government, not so much.
    I never did figure out how Paul and Babe fit into this picture. Maybe some straightforward information would have been cheaper and more effective.

  21. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/11/2013 - 09:18 am.

    It is surprising…

    That at this late and so many years after the collapse of conservative magic plans and free market delusions of private sector efficiency, someone would compare a political process to a product roll out. The Republicans are once again threatening to drive the government into default if Obama doesn’t delay the roll out of Obamacare for one year. When was the last time something like that happened when Apple was announcing its new iPhone? Not only that, but it’s actually up to the states to roll thing out and THAT was a concession to get enough REPUBLICAN votes to pass Obamacare in the first place. Technically there’s been nothing to actually roll out.

    Anyways, Mr. Reinan, remember all those roll-outs for American cars that didn’t sell and the attending collapse of American auto manufacturers? The roll-out of derivatives in the financial markets turned out to be quite the “fail” as well. Remember “Mervin’s”? And of course there’s always the roll-out of Michelle Bachmann for president if you want to widen the scope of discussion.

    Besides, roll-outs aren’t about providing information. Roll-outs are about branding, typically there is no information at all associated with a roll-out. Remember that famous Apple commercial years ago where the guy threw a sledge hammer into a big giant TV screen? Where was the information in that? To the extent that Obamacare has a problem with it’s roll-out, I suspect the problem stems from the fact that we’ve got the folks from the third space ship (think Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy) working on the problem.

  22. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 09/12/2013 - 02:40 pm.

    The Obama administration could have done a much better job of

    explaining their plans during the legislative process.

    I noticed something interesting during the whole Congressional debate. Unless they followed the story closely, both conservatives and liberals THOUGHT that Obama was trying to introduce something like the Canadian (government payments to private practitioners) or British (government-owned health facilities with a private option) systems.

    The conservative media worked overtime to publicize horror stories from British and Canadian tabloids, while liberal media merely went on about how it was shameful that any Americans couldn’t afford medical treatment, without going into any specifics. I ran into several liberals who said things like, “It’s about time we had a system like the Canadian one.”

    In fact, the closest equivalent to the Obama health plan is the German health insurance system, although Germany places much tighter restrictions on health insurance companies than the U.S. does. But nobody said that in any way that sank into the public consciousness.

    I’m pretty well informed, and it took me weeks to find an executive summary of the Obama plan. Even then, it wasn’t on any government website but on the website of the Kaiser Family Foundation. Even that was tremendously complicated.

    If the Obama administration had been PR-savvy, it would have released information about the proposal in no more than five bullet points. (As an experiment, I tried summarizing the Canadian, British, German, and Japanese systems that way. It’s not hard.) Then the distortions on the conservative side and the false hopes on the liberal side would not have gained so much traction.

  23. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 09/13/2013 - 04:18 pm.


    Boy, there sure is a tough crowd here on MinnPost! Unfortunately for John Reinan, I agree with most of the posters that John’s position is more than a bit spurious.

    Conservative members of society would have a complete meltdown if the Obama administration had done a campaign for ACA, especially if celebrities were used. We would hear that it’s all a bunch of brainwashing and we’ll soon be sent to the education camps. And the use of celebrities is just a give-away to compensate Hollywood for their generous campaign contributions.

    As it is we’ve heard from the Republicans how there will be death panels, health care will be rationed, premiums will go through the roof, and all the doctors will quit because they can’t make money anymore. It’s a gub’mint takeover of healthcare! Never mind that it’s still private industry insurance with a few restrictions thrown in. There wasn’t even a public option put on the table because the administration thought the Republicans and some Democrats would have a heart attack.

    Personally, I think we should have universal single payer healthcare, either directly government run or run by a tightly regulated utility, such as the electric companies. Take the profit margin out of the system, get a pool large enough to bring the premiums down for everyone, and reduce the doctor’s overhead with one set of rules to deal with. Couple that with compensation reform and then you’ve got real change. Pay doctors based on results, not the number of procedures they do.

    While ACA is a step in the right direction, it’s just spitting in the wind in my opinion.

  24. Submitted by Jonathan Williams on 09/15/2013 - 09:17 pm.

    Horribly flawed law

    At first I was somewhat supportive of it…until I tried to actually understand it. It needs to be repealed and rewritten from scratch. It does little to control costs, to stop those who abuse the system, to stop conflict of interests. It is just a poorly written law. Just to figure out the new taxes imposed by the law took me a LONG time. The rest of the law I am still trying to figure out. Just scrap it and start over already.

    I have officially switched sides and can no longer support this bad law.

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