Obamacare: On 3 Year Anniversary, Public is Still Misinformed On Law

As we approach the three-year anniversary of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as Obamacare, new survey results should raise concerns among Democrats and Republicans alike.

On Wednesday, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll revealed that only 37% of Americans have a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act, down from 50% when the law was passed in 2010. Of those surveyed, 40% hold an unfavorable view of the law, while 23% had no opinion.

Despite being the first successful attempt at expanding health care coverage since 1965, it is clear that the American public is not sold on Obamacare. Even after countless logistical victories, including the landmark June 2012 Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of the law, it appears as though the Affordable Care Act has failed in the court of public opinion.

Despite opposition to Obamacare as a whole, people overwhelmingly support many of the individual components of the law, such as prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and the extension of dependent coverage. The Kaiser poll shows that some of the major provisions of the law enjoy tremendous bipartisan support, with 71% of respondents supporting Medicaid expansion, 80% of people supporting the new health insurance exchanges and closing the Medicare “doughnut hole,” and a whopping 88% of people in favor of health insurance tax credits to small businesses.

If major elements of the law are met with such strong public support, why are so many Americans still staunchly opposed to the Affordable Care Act? Some may be opposed to the law because they have yet to experience its benefits. After all, a majority of Americans were opposed to Medicare when it first passed as well. Certainly others will have ideological qualms with the expansion of government health care, and will suggest that health insurance be dealt with at the state level.

But the most disconcerting explanation is that a portion of the American pubic is just simply misinformed about the Affordable Care Act. As a consequence of blatant fear-mongering, the Kaiser poll shows that an alarming 40% of respondents believed the patently false claim that Obamacare would establish government ‘death panels’ to make end-of-life health care decisions. Additionally, 47% of people believed that the law would expand coverage to undocumented immigrants, 44% thought the law would cut benefits for Medicare patients, and 57% believed that the law contains a public option – all of which are demonstrably false.

What do all of these misconceptions have in common?

They represent a rhetorical victory for opponents of the Affordable Care Act. Throughout the 2012 election season, opponents of the ACA perpetuated myths of death panels and billions of dollars of cuts to Medicare beneficiaries — and it appears as though some of those falsehoods are now being accepted as fact.

This may be part of the reason why so many Americans support major elements of the health care reform law, yet remain opposed to Obamacare as a whole. But more importantly, this is a symptom of a much larger problem. The ability of a group of people to successfully misrepresent reality underscores a deep, pervasive problem within our society. Have political distortions become so severe that we can no longer separate fact from fiction?