A Huffington Post investigation reveals that the “Affordable Care Act,” it turns out, is exactly the same thing as “Obamacare.” They aren’t two different things. There is only one, believe it or not.
We’ve triple-checked this. Congressional observers who witnessed the passage of the legislation say that the Affordable Care Act was enacted on March 20, 2010, after a lengthy legislative battle. We’ve looked into these claims, and they check out. However, it should be noted that the law’s most fervent supporter also happens to be the man who signed it into law ― President Barack Obama. And, at some point during the hullabaloo that presaged its enactment, the Affordable Care Act also became known as Obamacare.
But here’s the rub: At some point after its enactment, there arose a notion that “the Affordable Care Act” and “Obamacare” were two different things entirely. This has sowed confusion ever since.
You may have even encountered this confusion for yourself.
Has this ever happened to you? It’s a month after the election, and you’re having a conversation with a friend or a loved one, when all of the sudden, they say something like, “Now that the election is over, I’m very excited that they’ll finally repeal Obamacare.”
There’s a pause, and you do something of a double-take, because as far as you could remember, your confidant was actually receiving health care coverage from an Obamacare exchange. Confused, you stutter, “But Damocles!” ― your friend in this scenario is named “Damocles” ― “You get your health insurance through Obamacare.”
“Not at all, Phaedra,” he replies. (For some reason you are named “Phaedra,” just go with it.) “I get my health care through the Affordable Care Act.”
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. As the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump nears, and talk on Capitol Hill turns to how and when the GOP-controlled Congress will repeal the Affordable Care Act, and when and with what they shall replace it, we return to a discussion of branding, and whether what people really don’t like about Obamacare is just the part with “Obama.”
Maybe you’ve seen memes propagated on Twitter, in which obscure randos express confusion. Maybe you remember that time Jimmy Kimmel took to the streets, exploiting this ignorance for laughs. Or maybe you had to have a long talk with your pal Damocles, reminding him what life might be like with a sword dangling over his head. If so, you’ve come face to face with an interesting conundrum ― people don’t always know that “Obamacare” and the “Affordable Care Act” are the same thing.
Fun fact, though: They are.
The Affordable Care Act’s polling has always been a fraught, frothy matter. The most common thing we’ve learned over the years is that voters tend to respond more negatively to the total package of the law itself, but very positively to its provisions when they are presented separately. This suggests that the lawmakers who passed the bill did a poor job helping their constituents understand how the law’s features work.
And the White House did itself a number of disservices, first by not being straight with people about how altering the health insurance marketplace was going to cause noticeable consumer disruption (this earned President Barack Obama a “lie of the year” distinction from Politifact), and then by not launching the exchanges with a website that actually ― you know ― worked.
Through it all, of course, the Affordable Care Act was hurt by the fact that a much larger universe of people have opinions about the health care law than actually use it to obtain health care coverage.
The media hasn’t helped matters much, either. We’ve more or less used the shorthand “Obamacare” since it was coined by the law’s opponents. We didn’t do this because we were making some kind of judgment about the law itself. We did this because we in the media love shortcuts (easier to get “Obamacare” in a tweet than “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”) and nicknames (during primary season, we would be lost without our ability to refer to “New Hampshire” as “the Granite State” on second mention).
But for a long time, whenever we spoke about Obamacare, we were using a term that was intended to be a pejorative ― at least until Obama “reclaimed” the name for himself, telling people, “I know people call this law Obamacare and that’s OK. Because I do care.”
Which is all well and good, but it probably doesn’t really help people understand that “Obamacare” is the same thing as “The Affordable Care Act.”
It’s been a longstanding confusion that’s been noticed by pollsters over the years. And when you put the word “Obama” into the mix, it really heats up the passions.
They’re two different names for one law, but a new poll shows more Americans oppose the president’s signature health care law when it has his name attached than when it’s called the official name.
According to a new CNBC poll that surveyed two different groups, 46% of the group that was asked about “Obamacare” was opposed to the law, while 37% of the group asked about the “Affordable Care Act” was opposed to the law.
At the same time, more people support “Obamacare” (29%) than those who support ACA (22%.) In other words, having “Obama” in the name “raises the positives and the negatives,” as CNBC put it.
The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan has noted how deeply this phenomenon has permeated the discourse around the Affordable Care Act. She says it explains “why some Pennsylvanians told me they want subsidies for health insurance, just not Obamacare subsidies.”
It’s a kind of reverse “halo effect,” says Scott Rick, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Michigan. “If you already like someone, anything new they do gets the benefit of the doubt. If you already dislike someone, everything they subsequently touch is tainted. For many conservatives, Obamacare is the fruit of a poisonous tree.”
Some states have found the label so toxic that, in an effort to boost enrollment, they hid it. Kentucky expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, but the state called it “Kentucky Connect” (portmanteau’d to “Kynect”) because, as Obama told Vox recently, “I don’t poll that well in Kentucky.”
He really doesn’t! Back in May 2014, NBC News and Marist conducted a survey in which people were asked their opinion on the Affordable Care Act. Half of the respondents were asked their opinions on “Obamacare,” while the other half were asked about “Kynect” ― the name of the state health care exchange that Kentucky lawmakers built to comply with the Affordable Care Act.
According to the survey, Kynect was much, much more popular among respondents than Obamacare was, no matter how you sliced it. Even Republicans, who expressed their raging disapproval of Obamacare by a gap of 83 percent to 10 percent, only mildly disapproved of Kynect ― to the tune of 32 percent to 16 percent.
That’s pretty amazing, considering “Kynect” and “Obamacare” are the same thing ― and also the same thing as “the Affordable Care Act.”
In fact, if you are covered by any of the following ...
- Covered California
- Connect For Health Colorado
- Access Health CT
- DC Health Link
- Your Health Idaho
- Maryland Health Connection
- Health Connector (Massachusetts)
- New York State Of Health
- HealthSource RI
- Vermont Health Connect
- Washington Healthplanfinder
... then guess what? Those are all Obamacare, too! Plus: They are the Affordable Care Act.
You shouldn’t feel too bad about being confused over this. I mean, the state of Washington named its exchange, “Washington Healthplanfinder.”
Come on, Evergreen State, you’re better than that.
In the end, it’s possible that “The Affordable Care Act” was always going to become more popularly known as “Obamacare.” It was, after all, the Democrats’ first major attempt to reform the health care system since the 1990s, when that effort became known as “Hillarycare” very early in the game. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s “Commonwealth Care” is now basically known as “RomneyCare.” And whatever Trump does could very well end up being popularized as “TrumpCare” ― even if all he does is make a few cosmetic tweaks, and assume credit for Obama’s signature law.
But, as Khazan notes, there’s a “cautionary” lesson from all of this: “Health insurance and politicians are two of the country’s least-lovable entities ― it’s probably not wise to combine the two.”
True enough. But just imagine how poorly Obamacare would poll if it had been named, “The We Made A Bunch Of Sweetheart Deals With Insurance Companies And Also A Bunch Of Other Health Industry Interests And Their Lobbyists Act.”
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.