The Huffington Post’s Jason Cherkis reports on a remarkable encounter between Reina Diaz-Dempsey, a Kentucky public health worker signing people up for insurance coverage under health care reform, and a middle-aged man who approached her booth at the State Fair. After Diaz-Dempsey explained that he will either qualify for tax credits to buy insurance through Kynect (the state’s new insurance marketplace) or an expanded Medicaid pool in October, the man seemed pleased and mused, “This beats Obamacare, I hope.”
Kynect is actually one of the statewide insurance marketplaces at the heart of Obamacare, and the Medicaid expansion is another provision that stems from the health reform law. But Diaz-Dempsey doesn’t tell the man that — figuring the connection to Obamacare might actually dissuade him from pursuing coverage in a state with terrible public health demographics, where one in every five adults is uninsured. The anecdote is striking for its irony. But it underscores the reality that while some Americans — including many who will benefit immensely from the law — remain opposed to the abstract specter of “Obamacare,” they actually do support its core provisions.
Polling on the health law has consistently highlighted that paradox. A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) tracking survey from March found skepticism about “Obamacare” but widespread approval of actual Obamacare policies. Over 75 percent of respondents like the law’s insurance subsidies; 80 percent favor the statewide insurance marketplaces; a staggering 88 percent approve of the small business tax credits to help pay for employees’ health coverage.
But decidedly fewer Americans realize that these are all things the health law actually does:
Diaz-Dempsey isn’t the first health care worker to downplay Obamacare’s connection to new consumer protections out of fear that the negative attitudes surrounding the health reform law will dissuade Americans from using its benefits. Most states’ Obamacare marketplaces are advertising to consumers without using politically-loaded terms like “Obamacare,” opting for a more plainspoken approach that explains the objective facts of upcoming changes to the health care market without explicitly noting the new law.
That’s not very surprising considering that Obamacare critics and conservative political groups have launched an all-out assault on reform. Misleading ads deployed by groups such as the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity feature concerned-looking Americans asking questions like, “How do I know our family is going to get the care they need?” before replying with objectively false answers.
In Kentucky specifically, AFP paid for an ad on behalf of and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in which a narrator proclaims, “It’s already causing layoffs. Higher premiums are next. Mitch McConnell saw it coming. Leading the fight against Obamacare.” GOP lawmakers have also done everything in their power to make sure actual facts about the law don’t reach the public, denying funding for outreach efforts and warning companies that might consider promoting the law not to do the Obama administration’s “dirty work.”
That sort of obstruction has certainly had its intended effect. About 43 percent of uninsured Americans who could get basic health benefits under the law have no idea that they’re expected to buy coverage with the help of subsidies next year. Now, it’s up to outreach groups, community leaders, and health care workers like Diaz-Dempsey to undo the damage that has been done and sign people up for coverage any way they can. Luckily, if her story about the middle-aged man at the Kentucky State Fair is any indication, they’ll be more than willing to oblige.