Health Law's Critics Steer Education Efforts President Obama signed the health law in March and told voters to read up on it. But opponents of the law have done most of the educating on what it means. Polls show the public remains not only sharply divided over the merits of the measure, but confused about what it does.
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Health Care Law's Opponents Steer Education Efforts

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Health Care Law's Opponents Steer Education Efforts

Health Care Law's Opponents Steer Education Efforts

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

When the health overhaul became law last spring, its backers vowed to launch a major education effort. The goal: To win over a still-doubting public. But nearly seven months later, polls show the public remains as confused and divided as ever.

NPR's Julie Rovner reports on what happened and what didn't.

JULIE ROVNER: Back in March, on the day he signed the health care overhaul into law, President Obama made light of those who opposed the measure.

President BARACK OBAMA: I heard one of the Republican leaders say this was going to be Armageddon. Well, you know, two months from now, six months from now, you can check it out. We'll look around.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: And we'll see. You don't have to take my word for it.

ROVNER: But supporters of the law are doing a lot less laughing these days, its opponents who've gained the upper hand on defining how the measure would work.

Here are two ads being run in the district of Colorado House Democrat Betsy Markey and Wisconsin Democrat Steve Kagan.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Woman #1: Markey fought for the Obama-Pelosi government takeover of health care, crushing small businesses with billions in penalties.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man: Kagan voted for Pelosi's health care bill, which cuts $500 billion from Medicare.

Unidentified Woman #2: That threatens our ability to keep our doctors...

Unidentified Man: And keep our health plans like we were promised.

ROVNER: Now in truth, 96 percent of small businesses are exempt from any penalties, and most are actually eligible for new tax credits under the law. And there are no cuts in pay for doctors in the law. That's a separate Medicare issue.

There is some pushback by advocates for the measure, sometimes with humor. Health Care for America Now, an umbrella coalition of labor and consumer groups, has produced an online video featuring comedian Jack Black as a, quote, "liar for hire" working undercover in an elementary school.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Mr. JACK BLACK (Comedian): Hey, did you hear Obama's going to kill our grandmas?

Unidentified Child: What?

Mr. BLACK: Did you ever hear of a death panel? Say your goodbyes now, for real.

ROVNER: But that ad's only on the Web. Supporters of the health law are being vastly outspent by opponents on the actual TV and radio airwaves. And helping people understand what's in the health measure hasn't been at the forefront of the Obama administration's efforts, either.

Stephanie Cutter is the administration's point person for outreach strategy for the new law.

Ms. STEPHANIE CUTTER (Assistant to the President, Special Projects): Our first priority was to implement the law. When the president signed the Affordable Care Act into law, he said I want to implement this carefully but quickly. And that's what we've been spending our time doing.

ROVNER: Over the past six months, the administration has put into place rules that protect patients from insurance company abuses, new tax credits for small businesses and help for seniors with prescription drug costs.

Ms. CUTTER: All of these things have come out the door over the past six months as a result of our implementation efforts. And our education strategy has been pretty simple - make a difference in people's lives. Show them the tangible benefits of the law, and slowly that education process will happen.

ROVNER: But that strategy, a slow education process, may be backfiring. Drew Altman is a political scientist and president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. He says the failure to help the public understand what was in the health law actually happened well before the bill passed, back when the administration was trying to decide whether to portray the bill as cutting costs, expanding coverage, or protecting patients.

Mr. DREW ALTMAN (President, Kaiser Family Foundation): And the consequence was that when health reform was not defined in terms that people could understand, it was left open to being defined by its opposition in more scary terms. And that's exactly what happened. Health reform is still living with that.

ROVNER: But Altman says Republicans shouldn't read too much into polls showing widespread public disapproval of the measure.

Mr. ALTMAN: It's a symbol for them of their frustration with Washington, their anger towards Washington, the process in a really bad economy that just has people angry overall.

ROVNER: And that disapproval doesn't necessarily translate into a firm desire to see the law go away. One recent poll found 47 percent of respondents said they'd like to see the health law repealed. But in subsequent questions, majorities said they wanted to keep six of eight major provisions of the law intact.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington

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