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Obama just inadvertently revealed one of his biggest blunders with Obamacare

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

President Obama didn’t brand Obamacare. His opponents did that for him. It was an early public relations loss for his administration, and it has dogged his signature health care law since its inception.

Now, as the law faces likely repeal in Washington, Obama is trying to spin that history, saying he is only attached to the underlying principles of Obamacare and not the law itself.

“They were the ones who named it Obamacare,” he said in an interview with Vox’s Sarah Kliff and Ezra Klein on Friday, “because they want to personalize this and feed on antipathy toward me as an organizing tool, as politics. But I don’t have pride of authorship on this thing, if they can come up with something better.”

The nickname, which was initially derisive, stuck because the administration lost the message battle over whether health care reform was good or bad — and Obama embraced the “Obamacare” moniker only when it was clear that it was too late to rebrand.

This mixed messaging is one reason why some people covered by Obamacare aren’t aware that they’ve benefited from the law, or assumed that Republican plans to repeal and replace it wouldn’t affect them personally. Today, as President-elect Donald Trump takes office and the Republican-controlled Congress works on its plan to repeal and replace the law, the fact that Obamacare was never popular — and that its opponents defined it to the public — is a big problem for its supporters.

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