Obamacare and the Battle for Public Opinion

It appears that September through December has been a pivotal time in shaping Americans’ opinions on Obamacare. CNBC’s latest All-American Economic Survey highlights changes in attitudes and growing confusion over Obamacare since September. According to the survey, those who hold a negative view of the law rose one point to 47 percent. Favorable opinions declined from 29 percent in September, to 26 percent for December. Neutrality was the position of 11 percent (a two percent increase) and 16 percent said they did not know enough to answer; in September, 12 percent had the same opinion.

The changes are not drastic, but the continued downward trajectory is not helpful for President Obama’s signature piece of legislation. Enrollment through Healthcare.gov began on October 1. The dismal state of the website detracted from President Obama being able to promote the law, as the administration scrambled to find fix the issues so people could begin signing up for coverage.

The White House originally had a public relations push planned to kick-off with the website. In July, The Hill reported that Health and Human Services had added $33 million to its ObamaCare’s PR contract with Weber Shandwick. This was in addition to two other Shandwick contracts, valued at $3 million, and $8 million. Another contract had been signed with Porter Novelli, a PR firm.

According to a spokesperson, the purpose for the additional contract was to “provide CMS with resources from Weber Shandwick to conduct a public education and outreach campaign for the Health Insurance Marketplace, which will be one part of our wide-ranging outreach efforts.”

But, it is hard to tout a program when people can not readily access the information, or select how they wish to participate. With improvements made to the front-end of the website, users have been able to see and enroll in plans. The number of those who are covered will not be reported until after payments have been processed. “Some may have paid, some may not, we’re giving you the enrollment numbers,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said at a hearing on Capitol Hill.

Enrollment is the focus of the PR push that the Administration has finally been able to begin, which includes celebrity endorsements. Organizations like Enroll America, aim at maximizing the number of Americans covered under the Affordable Care Act. By using celebrities and groups to appeal to the uninsured, the hope is that Americans opinion on Obamacare will start moving in a more favorable direction.

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