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If Obamacare advocates meant to dupe the public, they did a terrible job

If Obamacare allies were indeed trying to dupe American voters into liking and supporting health reform, they did a pretty terrible job.

One idea that comes up in MIT health economist Jon Gruber's recent comments about Obamacare's drafting is that legislators were able to take advantage of "the stupidity of the American voter" to make Obamacare sound more appealing. And putting aside whether or not that was actually the plan, most survey data we have suggests that the lack of awareness about Obamacare is hurting, not helping, the law's popularity.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has regularly polled Americans to see what they know about what is or isn't in Obamacare. In the latest survey, KFF asked about thre big Obamacare components: the requirement to buy insurance or pay a fine (ie the individual mandate), the availability of insurance subsidies, and the expansion of Medicaid. In March, they found that more uninsured people know about the mandate than the subsidies or Medicaid expansion:


(Kaiser Family Foundation)

This has been true for years now. Back in 2013, Kaiser found that people knew the most about Obamacare's two mandates and penalties, for individuals and employers.


(Kaiser Family Foundation)

Obamacare supporters have never been able to do a great job spreading the word about the more appealing parts of the health-care law. Some of this reflects an imbalance in spending. Money has poured into anti-Obamacare ads pretty much since the law passed, and much of that focused on the individual mandate. The mandate was also at the center of the first Supreme Court case against Obamacare, which also likely increased awareness.

Separate research suggests that Obamacare would be more popular if people understood it better. A team of pollsters, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, did some modeling of what would happen if Americans became more informed about the law. And they argue that it would actually benefit Obamacare because it's the more popular parts of the law that people know the least about.

Running the numbers on what people know about the law and what provisions they like, the pollsters estimate, "If the public had perfect understanding of the elements that we examined, the proportion of Americans who favor the bill might increase from the current level of 32 percent to 70 percent."

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