Obamacare opponents have already run more than 30,000 television ads attacking the health law and Democratic candidates who support it, according to the media tracking group CMAG — a staggering 12-fold increase from four years ago. Many of the ads are being run in states with high uninsurance rates where hundreds of thousands of poor people could benefit from the Affordable Care Act, including Arkansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana.
Nearly half of all ads that have been run about the health law in House and Senate races through March 9 are critical of the ACA. And in a reflection of the post-Citizens United political landscape, spending by outside groups without any official connection to a particular organization or party accounts for almost three-fourths of all the commercials, compared to just 13 percent in 2010.
“We knew there would be heightened public awareness around the implementation of the law, and we thought it was important to go up early with a heavy effort,” said Tim Phillips, president of the Koch brother-funded group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), in an interview with Bloomberg.
AFP has run the most anti-Obamacare ads of any political group by a large margin, targeting vulnerable Democrats who are up for re-election, such as Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA). The organization’s spots play up misleading “horror stories” related to the health law, such as Americans who have had their insurance policies cancelled or seen their premiums spike. But the ads’ content tends to range from exaggeration to outright misinformation — and AFP has even been caught hiring paid actors to play the roles of “real” local residents.
It remains to be seen just how much the advertising assault will affect this November’s elections. But many of the commercials are concentrated in regions where large numbers of people can — and already have — take advantage of Obamacare’s consumer protections and financial assistance, especially the health law’s optional expansion of Medicaid.
More than 100,000 of the poorest Arkansas residents have enrolled in private health plans under the state’s alternative to Medicaid expansion. Louisiana, which has rejected the expansion, has seen more than 45,000 people sign up for plans through the state’s Obamacare marketplace as of March 1. And Kentucky, where AFP is going all out to assist Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election bid, has one of the most successful Obamacare marketplaces in the entire country, with over 87,000 enrollments through the Medicaid expansion and 55,000 enrollments through the private exchange.
A Bloomberg poll from Thursday also suggests that the “repeal-or-bust” stance being advanced by Obamacare foes isn’t particularly popular. Just under 65 percent of Americans either support the ACA outright or small fixes to the health law while just 34 percent endorse full repeal, according to the poll.