Some states have found the label so toxic that, in an effort to boost enrollment, they hid it. Kentucky expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, but the state called it “Kentucky Connect” (portmanteau’d to “Kynect”) because, as Obama told Vox recently, “I don’t poll that well in Kentucky.”
But not all Obamacare hate is misplaced Obama hate. “I believe there is certainly many individual cases where maybe the law’s unintended consequences of narrower networks and higher deductibles was a factor in their displeasure,” said G. William Hoagland, a senior vice president with the Bipartisan Policy Center and former staffer for Republican senators. “And the initial roll-out suggested for many that government could not handle such a major change in policy.”
And Obama-related Obamacare-hate is not necessarily misplaced, either. Even Obamacare supporters had their faith shaken by Obama’s broken promises about keeping existing plans, premiums declining by $2,500, and the disastrous website roll-out.
Hoagland believes a less-controversial name wouldn’t have spared the law peoples’ wrath. And a more anodyne nickname—say, “Faircare”—might not have stuck as firmly as Obamacare did.
“It already had just about the most innocuous name possible: the Affordable Care Act,” Rick said. “That name, in and of itself, is insightful branding.”
“Unfortunately,” he added, “Obamacare is even better branding.”
Obamacare—with its pleasant pattern of long and short vowels and its echo of better-liked Medicare —is, for better or worse, easy to remember, said John E. McDonough, a Harvard professor who worked on the Affordable Care Act. “Easier even than Affordable Care Act—which I, to this day, hear people mangle (i.e.: Accountable Care Act, Affordable Coverage Act, etc.),” he added.
It’s conceivable Obamacare could have saved itself from its name by working better. If people weren’t so dissatisfied with their networks and deductibles, perhaps they would have embraced Obamacare—and, in turn, Hillary Clinton, who promised to build on it, rather than destroy it. But even McDonough doubts that would have prevented “Obamacare” from catching on, and, eventually, being contaminated.
“It feels similar to ‘Hillary-care’ in the early 1990s—once it was out there, it was almost impossible to shake,” he said. In embracing the label, the Obama administration was wrong to think people would like their new plans enough to override the relentless criticism of the law, he added.
Perhaps Obamacare, and Hillarycare before it, is a cautionary tale for what some are now recommending: Simply tweaking Obamacare slightly and renaming it “Trumpcare.” Health insurance and politicians are two of the country’s least-lovable entities—it’s probably not wise to combine the two. Medicare was not called Johnsoncare, after all. And Romneycare, Massachusetts’s state-based Obamacare predecessor, did pose a bit of a problem when its eponymous governor ran for president in 2012, but it was eclipsed by bigger issues.
Rick, the branding expert, thinks perhaps the Republicans should name their replacement bill something that will resonate better with conservatives. “Adding ‘freedom,’ ‘liberty,’ or ‘responsible’ to the title might help,” he said. “Maybe the ‘Responsible Coverage Act.’ I say ‘coverage’ instead of ‘care’ because for some conservatives, ‘care’ may sound too feminine.”
But, you know, you’re going to want to focus-group that “Freedom Coverage” first.