By Maxime Fischer-Zernin.
It is rare to find a talking point so important, so effective, and so simple that it becomes the core of an entire Presidential PR campaign–and it is even rarer for that talking point to be blatantly false. In selling the Affordable Care Act as a win-win law, the President made it a point to ensure Americans that if they liked their current plans, they would be able to keep them, no questions asked. However, on October 1 insurers began mailing out 4 million letters of cancellation.
The uproar following the cancellation prompted a presidential apology, and after 4 years of the healthcare lies, conservative commentator Sean Hannity put Obama’s statements on the same pedestal as President Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook,” and President Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
From June 2009 to September 2013, President Barack Obama or a top administration official said, “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” or something similar 37 times, and in the 113th Congress alone, a search for the exact phrase “if you like your health care plan you can keep it” brought up 29 results.
The President probably could’ve gotten away with it though, if it weren’t for the “fumbled” rollout of the law. But on the morning of October 1, at least 24 out of the 36 state marketplaces being run by the federal government posted error messages. In response, healthcare.gov pushed back its enrollment deadline by one day and exchanges around the country extended their payment deadlines by anywhere from 2 weeks in California to a month in Connecticut.
The relative success of state exchanges – those that opted out of using healthcare.gov in favor of constructing their own online ACA marketplaces – has served as evidence for GOP lawmakers claiming the federal government is inept. Successful states including Connecticut, Kentucky, Rhode Island, and Washington, can easily be attributed to their pragmatic approach to building their site. Just the same faltering states like Maryland, where state legislators are pushing to revert to the federal exchange, give GOP lawmakers impetus to the say the whole thing just stinks.
But why are some states succeeding? Instead of releasing a full-site, these states created a simpler beta site requiring less bandwidth. As the system develops so will the websites. Carrie Banahan, who runs the Kentucky exchange, explains, “Our system doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles. There aren’t a lot of graphics that would take a lot of bandwidth.” There is also a strong correlation between the success of state exchange and which private sector partner helped with back-office implementation. Private sector giant Deloitte is behind nearly every flourishing state exchange.
The failure of the rollout has given new initiative to a weakened post-shutdown GOP, and on November 18th House Majority Leader Eric Cantor released “Obamacare Watch,” in which he outlined messaging for Republicans to continue running against Obamacare and support the Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013. The key message was “Because of Obamacare, I lost my insurance.” This message was supported by a series of talking points about the ACA’s effect on taxes, jobs, premiums, and coverage. One read, “Millions of Americans will lose the plan they have and like.” Despite this messaging from leadership, the most effective tool for messaging is likely to remain the President’s own words.
In what can only be compared to Rep. Wilson’s yelling, “you lie” after Obama told a joint-session of Congress that illegal immigrants wouldn’t be insured, Republicans have again taken to slandering the President as a liar—only this time they’re right.
When you boil down an 828-page law into a talking point, a lot gets left out. Still, as Mr. Messer (R-IN-6) remarked on November 14th, “The problem [with the President’s statements] is saying something many times does not magically make it come true.” However much the President wants to think it, it just isn’t true that Americans would be allowed to keep their health plans, period.
Recovering from this monumental gaffe is only one of the President’s challenges this year. It will be a testing twelve months for the President as he attempts to boost enrollment in health plans and works to further increase employment. Having disappointed many of his followers and empowered the opposition, it will surely be an uphill battle for the President, whose approval rating is now at 40%. This is, however, a challenge he is willing to take on as the 2014 midterms approach. If he fails, however, we are all but guaranteed 2 more years of gridlock as usual.