Monday, November 30, 2015

What is Obamacare? Guaranteed health insurance for those who want it

Most people think Obamacare has either been repealed or aren't sure what happened to it, a recent poll shows. Supporters have done an amazingly poor job of correcting this. Now supporters should simply explain what the law does: Obamacare guarantees health coverage to everyone who wants it. Americans have never had that protection before. It will be a lifesaver for millions.

What is Obamacare? Guaranteed health insurance for those who want it


We still don’t seem to get it when it comes to health reform. And the more we hear about the law, the less we appear to understand.

Last week, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll reported that 22% of the public thinks Obamacare has been repealed, and 26% are not sure. Almost one-third of Republicans believe it is no longer the law.

To set the record straight, Obamacare has not been repealed by Congress, nor has it been blocked by the courts. The House of Representatives voted to rescind it, but the Senate refused to go along. On the judicial front, two federal judges have found a part of the law to be unconstitutional, but three others have found it fully valid.

Compared to misconceptions on other issues, the poll result is not so out of line. In a 2009 survey, 39% called for keeping the government out of Medicare, with 15% not sure. Another poll that year found 24% thinking President Obama was foreign-born, including 6% who believed his state of birth, Hawaii, is not a part of the United States. And in 2001, 6% agreed that the moon landing was faked, with 5% undecided.

A law as complex as health reform leaves lots of room for confusion. Why should we expect the public to understand it any better?

The details of Obamacare are, indeed, overwhelming. However, this hardly makes it unique. Many major government programs (and lots of private ones, as well) are complex. You can’t address something as complicated as health care with a simple response.

What makes Obamacare different from other programs is the public’s limited understanding of its core purpose. Even though they may not grasp all the details, most people know why we have Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Even those who don’t realize that Medicare is a government program still tend to understand its goal - to guarantee health care for the elderly. Yet, many Americans have no idea why Congress enacted health reform.

Obamacare’s opponents make a point of stoking confusion, hoping to make the law seem hopelessly convoluted. Their message diverts attention from discussion of the law’s underlying goal.

How have health reform supporters responded? With incomprehensible ineptitude.

The Obama administration keeps fighting brush fires, trying to douse a steady barrage of misinformation. The Kaiser poll shows just how bad a job they are doing.

Instead of continually correcting details, health reform supporters should focus instead on a simple core message. Obamacare guarantees health coverage to everyone who wants it. Americans have never had that protection before. It will be a lifesaver for millions.

Would that be any harder to explain than the moon landing?

To check out more Check Up items go to

We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue.
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines.

Comment policy: comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Read 0 comments
comments powered by Disqus
About this blog

Check Up is a blog for savvy health consumers, covering the latest developments, discoveries, and debates from the Philadelphia area and beyond.

Portions of this blog may also be found in the Inquirer's Sunday Health Section.

Robert I. Field, Ph.D., J.D., M.P.H. Professor, Drexel University Kline School of Law & Dornsife School of Public Health
Latest Health Videos
Also on
letter icon Newsletter