The Sisyphean Struggle to Sell ObamaCare


Poor Democrats. They've been insisting for over a year that if they just explain the health care overhaul's "benefits" a little better, the public will eventually catch on and the law will become popular. Every few months they launch a new project intended to sell the law's virtues; here we are, for example, at the law's one year anniversary, and according to The Hill, the law's backers are prepping yet another please-like-me PR mission. Almost inevitably, this campaign, like all those before it, will be followed by someone somewhere noticing that the needle on public opinion has yet to turn in favor of the law.

Why such trouble? Well, as I've argued before, Democrats are actually correct that the law has some popular benefits. But they forget that there are also parts—mostly on the costs side—that are unpopular. Perhaps overall, the public doesn't care for the trade-off.

It may also be the continual run of bad news suggesting that, at minimum, the law is having some trouble: A number of insurers have quit selling child-only health insurance polices; patients are no longer able to use their flexible spending account dollars; and, by passing out more than a thousand waivers to unions, businesses, and now states, the administration has implicitly admitted that parts of the law work about as well as a fake Chinese iPhone. Indeed, I suspect that's the problem for much of the public: Like those cheaply made knockoffs, the whole thing looks somewhat convincing right up to the point where you actually start using it.

The same goes for the factless hosannas that have been sung in defense of the law. They're just not convincing when examined. I'm not the only one who thinks so, either.  The "Fact Checker" column in today's Washington Post, for example, takes a look at a batch of recent assertions made by members of the party responsible for passing the law and finds that, after a year, "House Democrats appear to show little hesitation about repeating claims that previously have found to be false or exaggerated." Their various claims that the law has created millions of jobs, helped boost insurance coverage amongst small employers, and will reduce the deficit by a trillion dollars just aren't believable.

On the other hand, this isn't much of a surprise. Last August, a leaked memo from a coalition of prominent health reform backers in the midst of earlier efforts to sell the law noted that "straightforward 'policy' defenses fail to be moving voters' opinions about the law" and advised pro-ObamaCare activists to avoid saying that "the law will reduce costs and deficit." Meanwhile, earlier this month, Health and Human Services Secretary, after repeatedly denying it previously, finally admitted that the administration's promisess about the health care law employed double counting. Poor Democrats. Poor liberal activists. They can't even convince themselves.