Former top Obamacare official Kathleen Sebelius admits that the public “universally” dislikes Obamacare, but is charging ahead by saying the health-care law just needs a rebranding.
“If you ask people do they like Obamacare, the answer is pretty universally no,” Sebelius said at a Politico “Lessons from Leaders” event. “Unless they have coverage.”
The public’s distaste for the Affordable Care Act is irrefutable. While many Democratic supporters of the law continue to blame unpopularity on the botched website during Sebelius’ tenure as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Obamacare reached its lowest approval rating from Gallup just last month.
But Sebelius charges that the law is working and simply needs to be re-branded and re-sold to the American people.
“So Obamacare no question has a very bad brand that has been driven intentionally by a lot of misinformation and by a lot of paid advertising and I think we may need to call it something, in the future, different,” Sebelius said. “But it’s working and now people are getting coverage.”
Sebelius specifically blamed political ads from 2013 that centered around Obamacare itself — not specific political races in the 2010 midterms and 2012 presidential elections. The former cabinet member blamed heavy ad spending even more than her agency’s failure to create a functional website.
“I think by the time that the enrollment started in 2013, clearly we had a terrible eight weeks of website disaster, which didn’t help,” Sebelius began. “But by that time there had been $400 million worth of ads that had been run against the law — not the political ads in ’10 and ’12 but just directly branding Obamacare as something that was dangerous for the country, would raise costs, would harm people and their families and I think that has been very difficult to counter in the long run.”
Although she doesn’t believe HealthCare.gov is entirely to blame for Obamacare’s unpopularity, she does think the country paid too much attention to the problems behind HealthCare.gov.
“I hope that there are not a lot of people that have to live through that kind of eight weeks in the spotlight,” Sebelius began.
“You have to own the mistake, you have to apologize for it, and you have to fix it, and hopefully move on,” she said. “Moving on is hard in Washington, there seems to be a feedback loop, but even though the website really was fixed by December 1, before anybody could even gain benefits, and we ended up meeting the targets for sign-ups, it still is the story du jour.”
The first year of Obamacare enrollment actually did not meet the Congressional Budget Office’s original estimate of 7 million effectuated enrollments. Just 6.7 million people from the first enrollment period had coverage through Obamacare exchanges as of Oct. 15, HHS admitted after first falsely inflating the figure with dental plans.
Even with 6.7 million enrollments and an improved website, Obamacare’s popularity has continued to crater. Sebelius is optimistic that Democrats can change that by telling more “positive stories” about the health-care law — and that the GOP Congress won’t change much in the law.
“I think it’s here to stay,” she concluded.