Forget Trying To Defend Obamacare With Talking Points, Just Enroll More People

This past July 4th weekend the Obama Administration launched a mini PR campaign urging Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) supporters to defend the law at the family barbecue. Of course opponents of the law mocked the Administration’s efforts to counter their relentless negative attacks. They especially made fun of the suggested responses to typical complaints about the law. And although I sympathize with the frustration the Administration must feel about the criticism the law still receives, this campaign shows that they really don’t get it.

One look at any comment thread for any Obamacare article on sites like New Republic Online or Wall Street Journal Online and you know that defending the law with facts is a waste of time. Pointing out that opponents were wrong about everything is a waste of time. Why? Because different people interpret “the facts” about Obamacare differently and Obamacare opponents really hate and distrust President Obama. You ever try defending yourself against someone who hates you to the core? You can’t. So stop trying.

Repeal and Replace, Meet Enroll and Evolve

More Americans are familiar with the message of repeal and replace than are aware of the most important features of Obamacare, such as the availability of subsidies to help pay for health insurance coverage. Obamacare foes never miss an opportunity to say something negative about the law. Meanwhile, those who support the law often work behind the scenes. The work they do is great, but low-key and minimal. Ads on trains and buses and in medical facility waiting rooms are no match for consistent national news sound bites calling for repeal of the law.

But while Obamacare opponents seem to be winning the rhetoric war, Obamacare supporters continue to beat them where it counts—in the courts. The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Obamacare twice, first with the individual mandate and recently by allowing subsidies for state exchange enrollees. In addition, more people have health insurance because of the law than anyone initially predicted. The current count is about 16 million insured because of the law.

However, there is still a lot more work to do. Now is the time to fortify the law to protect it against unceasing legal challenges. Now is also the time to address the one major Obamacare legal defeat—mandatory state Medicaid expansion. Supporters should forget about defending the law with talking points, and instead counter the repeal and replace mantra with an action-focused campaign to increase enrollment and improve the law. We’ll call it—enroll and evolve.

By sticking to its core strength, which is there is strength in numbers, Obamacare has defeated its opponents. It stands to reason that further increasing the number of individuals with health insurance because of the law, will make it even stronger. Campaigns that focus on reaching hard-to-reach segments of the population are essential. There are millions of people who have no or limited access to the Internet who need to be the focus of future enrollment efforts. A few things the Administration can do to reach out to these individuals are:

  • provide free text messaging and Internet services for a limited time to those who have smartphones but no text or Internet service
  • place navigators, volunteers and staff at the DMV, libraries, employment centers, post offices, etc.
  • hold local enrollment fairs at large, easy-to-access facilities and pay people $25 to attend and reimburse their public transit costs
These options will cost a few bucks but maybe some private, wealthy citizens will donate money to pay for them…

And lastly, the Administration needs to come up with its own list of reforms to address the major issues with the law instead of waiting for opponents to make suggestions. Helping those who would benefit from state Medicaid expansion, but are not, has to be a priority. So is addressing the many affordability issues for younger enrollees and others who are not eligible for subsidies.

Get to work…
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