Obamacare's third open enrollment period started today. And one of the question most on Americans' minds — or at least the thing they're searching a lot for on Google — is how to sign up.
I asked Google to pull the top 10 Obamacare-related search questions for the past five years, to try to get a sense of how it might show any perceptions about the health care law changing. We know from our own survey data that Americans are just as divided as ever about the president's health care law. I wanted to see if that shows up in search data, too.
One important thing to know here: Americans are searching for Obamacare way less than they used to. Searches related to the law peaked in 2013, during Healthcare.gov's disastrous rollout, and have been relatively low ever since.
When you start looking at actual Google searches though, that's when it starts to get interesting.
Americans want to know how to sign up for Obamacare
Obamacare passed in 2010, and that year, Google search was dominated by questions about what exactly this massive bill was — people searched for "health care reform" back then, as the term Obamacare wouldn't be coined until the next year. The top three Google searches related to the health law, in 2010, were all about what exactly the law was — and what it meant for the country.
In 2011 and 2012, search questions started to become more practical. "What is Obamacare" still remained the top search term — and has through 2015 — but after that, different questions started to pop up. In 2011, Americans started asking when Obamacare started (and, given the pending lawsuit, whether it was constitutional).
In 2012, start time showed up again as a top search term. In 2013 came the first open enrollment period; that's also the first year that Americans started searching heavily for how to sign up.
And those type of searches have dominated ever since. If you use Google searches as a barometer, the things most Americans want to know about Obamacare are mostly about what the law is — and how they use it. The questions have become a bit more granular over the past few years, as people searched a lot this year not just for how to sign up for it but also how much it costs.