White House plans PR makeover for Obamacare

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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White House officials are trying to distance President Barack Obama’s name from his disastrous Obamacare health-sector network.

Officials are working to rebrand the failed network, and are avoiding the “Obamacare” term.

“Many people have, understandably, been frustrated with the flawed rollout of the website and it would be a shame if that experience soured them on the broader law,” deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday, after he was asked if officials were going to change the public’s perception of the Obamacare health-sector network.

Earnest evaded a question which asked if the White House is trying to find a new name. “Not that I know of,” he said.

The attempt to rebrand the flailing program represents another shift in the politics over the name of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was passed by a slim Democratic majority in 2010. Although the term “Obamacare” was initially a pejorative used by opponents of the massive and unpopular takeover of the U.S. medical industry, the president came to adopt the term himself, using it extensively during the 2012 presidential campaign. By the time the rollout approached, calling it the “Affordable Care Act” had come to seem like an ironically formal gesture by opponents and skeptical media.

But now the president is in a hurry to get his name off the disastrous policy. Obama revealed the rebranding effort Wednesday at a meeting of senior insurance executives.

“We’re going to have to… fix the website so everybody feels confident about that,” he said. “We’re obviously going to have to remarket and rebrand and that will be challenging in this political environment.”

He may not have told his wife, however. On Nov. 18, she used the Obamacare term at a fundraiser, telling supporters that “Obamacare was passed by Congress in 2010, signed by my husband, and upheld by the Supreme Court.”

Earnest’s statements suggested officials will likely try to break the public’s linkage of the failed Obamacare website from the various health-care changes imposed by the 2010 Obamacare law.

“There are a range of options that are available on that website, and we don’t want people’s initial negative experience with the website to dissuade them from continuing to pursue options that are available there,” Earnest said.

“People can get tax credits to make their health insurance more affordable… [and people] could qualify for Medicaid so that they could provide for themselves and their families when it comes to health care,” he said.

White House officials frequently use press conferences to lay the groundwork for policy changes. In this case, Earnest’s statements suggest that the White House will try to create new and separately named mechanisms for people to get tax subsidies, to sign up for Medicaid, and to sign up for the Obamacare-compliant health benefit plans offered by Aetna, United and companies.

The rebranding effort, however, may be too late to separate Obama’s reputation from his effort to redesign the nation’s complex and huge health sector.

Obama has used the term on several occasions, usually to mock the GOP’s criticism of his ambitious effort to politicize the nation’s health-sector for the benefit of the Democratic Party.

Once the network “is working really well…then [Republicans] are going to stop calling it Obamacare…  They’re going to call it something else,” he said in a Nov. 8 speech in New Orleans.

A search by The Daily Caller showed the term was last used Oct. 10 in a White House statement. “The President reaffirmed that we will not allow them to hold the economy hostage to an extreme political agenda that includes demands like defunding Obamacare,” said the so-called readout of an Oct. 10 meeting of the president with Democratic legislators.

That disastrous Obamacare plan is now a threat to the party because its massive taxes on middle-class voters, and its cascading failures, threaten to alienate influential swing-voters voters before the 2014 and 2016 elections.

Numerous polls show the president’s approval rating has been hammered into the low 40s by the Obamacare rollout. One poll by the CBS showed Obama’s approval has tanked to only 37 percent.

A poll by CNN showed that one in five Americans knows someone who lost their insurance coverage because of the law, and that Obama’s poll ratings among critical suburbanite voters has crashed.

“The [national] drop in Obama’s approval rating comes entirely among suburbanites,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said in a Thursday statement.

“Compared to the October CNN poll, positive views of Obama held steady among people who live in big cities and rural areas… In the suburbs, his approval rating was 45% a month ago but has dropped to just 37% now.”

For much of 2014, Obama has been working to persuade suburban voters to back Democratic candidates in the 2014 election.

Last week, 39 House Democrats voted for an Obamacare reform bill, despite a veto threat from Obama.

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