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Selling Obamacare

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Three and a half years after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, "Obamacare," it's primary provisions will go into affect October 1st. While the new health care law will benefit most Americans, it appears to be unpopular. Why?

Most Americans don't understand Obamacare. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 52 percent of respondents "oppose the federal law making changes to the health care system." However, 62 percent of respondents admit they, "do not have the information [needed] to understand what changes will occur when the new health care law takes effect."

Despite widespread confusion, Americans believe that Obamacare should go into effect. A recent Pew Research Poll found that 50 percent of respondents oppose the House Republican move to cut off funding for Obamacare. Pew also found that most respondents want elected officials to "make the law work."

A CBS News poll revealed that opposition to Obamacare is nuanced. Twenty percent of respondents want the Affordable Care Act to be expanded. Sixteen percent want to keep it the way it is. Eighteen percent want to only repeal the "individual mandate" that requires Americans to obtain health insurance if they don't have it. Only 39 percent want to repeal the entire law. And 7 percent are unsure. Thus, 54 percent of respondents desire at least some aspects of the Obamacare.

While most Americans are uniformed about important aspects of the Affordable Care Act, polls find the more repsondents know about the law, the more they like it. In a 2012 poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundations:

Kaiser asked about 12 specific provisions in the legislation, and found that, on average, 63 percent of respondents approved of the nuts and bolts of Obamacare.

A recent CNN article by Dr. Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician on the staff of Indiana University, declared:

Obamacare will do more good than harm. Many uninsured Americans are unable to get insurance in the market as it exists today, especially if they have chronic conditions. Those who can afford to often pay a fortune for it. Obamacare is a solution to these problems.

Nonetheless, as we approach the October 1st deadline, Obamacare remains a contentious subject.

One reason is that President Obama has failed to communicate the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. Last year, Obama admitted to CBS News that the biggest failure of his first term was "emphasizing policy over storytelling... the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism..." The President has not told Americans enough compelling stories about the benefits of his health care reform initiative.

As the October 1st deadline approaches, Obama is leaning on Bill Clinton to convince Americans of the merits of Obamacare. (On September 24th, the president and former-president talked about health care at a New York event.) Obama is also calling upon his wife, Michelle, Vice President Biden, and members of his cabinet to lobby the nation. In addition, the New York Times reported that the Administration initiative

... will eventually be augmented by a Madison Avenue-style advertising campaign by insurance companies, which officials say are poised to spend $1 billion or more to attract millions of new customers.

Meanwhile, Republicans are spending millions in a last-ditch effort to derail Obamacare. "Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers group... has already spent millions on ads fighting health reform." (And the House of Representatives has spent an estimated $55 million taking Republican-inspired votes to repeal Obamacare.)

As a consequence, Americans have been deluged by false information about the Affordable Care Act. Typical is an ad generated by another Koch Brothers group, Generation Opportunity, that claims that Obamacare will result in the government taking the role of the physician.

Republicans are doing everything they can to derail Obamacare. Some are motivated by a deep hatred for the president. They don't want any of his initiatives to succeed. Other Republicans are blinded by their conservative ideology. They oppose the social safety net and do not want to see it expanded -- in addition to Obamacare they also oppose widely successful programs such as Medicare and Social Security. Finally, there are many conservatives who are motivated by political pragmatics. They believe when Americans actually experience Obamacare, they will like it and want to see services expanded. Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz observed:

What the administration desperately wants is to get to January, to get the exchanges in place, to get the subsidies in place... so they want people hooked on Obamacare so it can never be unwound.

The president may not have done a good job selling Obamacare but he's done enough to push it across the starting line. And once Americans understand Obamacare they are going to like it. That's bad news for Republicans.