As Obamacare Turns Three Years Old, Americans Still Have Big Misperceptions About What It Does

Thursday marks the three-year anniversary of Congress’ passage of the health care reform law. And although Obamacare has had a high profile throughout the past several years of political fights over health reform, that hasn’t ensured that Americans understand what the law actually does. Even after three years, many Americans are still confused about Obamacare’s specific provisions, and can’t correctly identify what is and isn’t in the health law.

According to a new Kaiser Health tracking poll, a plurality of Americans incorrectly believe the health law cuts Medicare benefits, establishes “death panels,” gives health benefits to undocumented immigrants, and contains a public option. The idea that Obamacare includes a public option is the biggest misconception about it, as 57 percent of respondents asserted that they believed the law has a public health insurance option — compared with just 28 percent who know it doesn’t:

In general, Americans are less likely to be aware that widely popular policies are included in Obamacare, like the provisions that provide tax credits for small businesses and that help make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors. On the other hand, the public is much more likely to be able to attribute the less popular aspects of the law — like the individual mandate that compels every American to purchase insurance — to Obamacare:

The discrepancies are likely because of the ongoing, politicized misinformation campaign that’s been waged against Obamacare. Previous polling has shown that accurate knowledge about the health law tends to be divided along party lines: Democrats know more about what the law actually does than Independents do, and Independents know more than Republicans do. That’s been an issue for the health reform law since its inception. Before the Supreme Court handed down its decision to uphold the law, a slim majority of Americans said they opposed Obamacare as a whole — but when they were asked about its provisions separately, most of the law’s actual policies had broad support.


The tide is beginning to turn. Whereas Obamacare used to be solely associated with the negative fearmongering surrounding it, Democrats are now beginning to tout the health reform law’s accomplishments more confidently, hoping to raise awareness about its more popular provisions. Health care reform proponents are looking ahead to 2014 and beyond, when more Americans will start feeling the positive effects of Obamacare on their own lives. But there’s still a long way to go when it comes to educating the American people about the law.