White House Muddles Obamacare Messaging — Again : Shots - Health News This summer was supposed to be a time for the Obama administration to reintroduce the public to the Affordable Care Act and teach people how to sign up for benefits this fall. But despite another White House speech, that's not happening. And an expert in political messaging thinks he knows why.
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White House Muddles Obamacare Messaging — Again

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White House Muddles Obamacare Messaging — Again

White House Muddles Obamacare Messaging — Again

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. This summer is supposed to be when the American public is reintroduced to the Affordable Care Act and taught how to sign up for benefits.

MONTAGNE: But that's not what's happening. Earlier this month, the Obama administration decided to delay implementing some key pieces of the law because they wouldn't be ready in time for next year's rollout.

GREENE: And then this week, the Republican-led House voted to delay the rest of the law. It was the 39th vote against the law. As NPR's Julie Rovner reports, even some of the president's backers are starting to worry that the White House is getting dangerously off-message.

JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: President Obama has been busy with other things the past couple of months, leaving the nitty-gritty of rolling out the health law to underlings in the administration. But with so much going sideways the past couple of weeks, yesterday saw the big guy himself, there in the White House, surrounded by people who are already seeing the tangible benefits of the health law.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ROVNER: The president was talking about a somewhat obscure provision of the law that requires insurance companies to pay rebates to policyholders if the companies spend too much on administrative costs rather than medical expenses. This year an estimated eight and a half million Americans will get rebates. That's actually down from the 13 million who got them last year. And Obama admitted that even those who are getting the checks don't necessarily associate them with the health law.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

(LAUGHTER)

: ...that they got this extra money in their pockets.

ROVNER: Which is a big part of the administration's messaging problem. According to public opinion polls, many of the law's provisions are extremely popular, but the law itself isn't. Still. And while the president is talking about a few million people getting refunds of $100 or $200, Republicans have been talking in much more expansive terms. Here's Texas Republican Pete Sessions on the House floor Wednesday.

(SOUNDBITE OF STATEMENT)

ROVNER: White House Spokesman Jay Carney derided Republicans continuing efforts to roll back the law at his daily briefing yesterday. He said the president is willing to make changes to the law as necessary.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRIEFING)

ROVNER: But there's a major difference in the way Republicans talk about the law and the way the president does, says George Lakoff. He's a professor of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley and an expert on political messaging. He says when Republicans talk about the law, they talk about it as a moral issue.

GEORGE LAKOFF: Basically, they say that democracy is about liberty, the liberty to pursue your own self-interest without you having to take care of anybody else's interests or anybody else having to take care of yours.

ROVNER: And when President Obama talks about the health law?

LAKOFF: His message was all about money.

ROVNER: At least in yesterday's speech it was. But in general, that's been the president's problem, says Lakoff. He's mostly shied away from talking about health care on the same moral terms as the Republicans have. And he could talk about it from the moral perspective of Democrats if he wanted to.

LAKOFF: Health care is about life itself, about living a decent life, about living free from fear, and also free from economic fear. Free from losing your home because you have to pay out of pocket for operations that really ought to be paid for by having health care insurance.

ROVNER: The administration, however, has seemed to be all over the place when it comes to its messaging about the health law from the start. Of course, it's been a lot easier for the Republicans. Their message is pretty much one word: No. Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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