Some Americans Say They Support the Affordable Care Act but Not Obamacare

The idea that ignorance is the root of much disagreement—that if Americans understood the healthcare law, more would support it—seems condescending, but not invalid. 
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(Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

"So you disagree with Obamacare?"

"Yes, I do."

"Do you think insurance companies should be able to exclude people with preexisting conditions?"

"No."

"Do you agree that young people should be able to stay on their parents' plans until they're 26?"

"They should be able to, yes."

"Do you agree that companies with 50 or more employees should provide healthcare?"

"I do."

"And so, by that logic, you would be for the Affordable Care Act?"

"Yes."

That exchange is from a segment last night on Jimmy Kimmel Live, which underscored the recurring idea that if more Americans understood the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, more would be on board. The four-minute video is here:

NPR's Morning Edition today made the same point. Kate Bicego, who manages consumer assistance for the Massachusetts health consumer group Health Care for All, said people remain surprised to hear that there are health plans they can afford, that many qualify for help with paying premiums, and that they won't be penalized for not buying something they can't afford.

"Once I talk to them for about an hour about 'This is actually what the law does,'" Bicego said, "people are just as excited as I am about what this means."

Since its initial passage, polls have continued to show that many people who say they are oppose the Affordable Care Act actually do endorse its provisions. PBS, NPR, NBC, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic have all ran/aired basic "What Is Obamacare?"-type content. Still recently only a quarter of Americans say they understand the law well. Maybe we're not doing it right.

There was even this Adorable Care Act campaign last week, where tiny ducks and piglets explained exchanges. Where do you go from there?

There are legitimate reasons one might support or oppose the healthcare law, but misunderstanding its names or basic provisions is no longer among them. We've had years to learn about the law, and good resources are widely available to do it. Just today Kaiser Family Foundation released some solid consumer-oriented explanations. The U.S. government is presently shut down over the issue. Comedians ridiculing ignorance can sometimes feel gauche, but at this point it's fine.

Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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