The Law That Must Not Be Named

Talking Points Memo has done a service and rounded up a bunch of the ads states will be airing to promote the health-insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act, and they provide an interesting window into how the exchanges in particular, and the ACA in general, is going to look to the public. The first thing you notice is that none of ads mentions the words "Affordable Care Act, let alone "Obamacare." A couple of them use words like "official" to denote that this is sponsored by the state, but others just make it seem like a consumer marketplace that might not have anything to do with government at all. And many of the spots look like they were produced by the state tourism board, with quick cuts between picturesque scenes from all around the state and poetic words about how our state is awesome and we're all terrific people. For instance, this one from Oregon barely mentions healthcare at all; it's just a friendly Portland hipster musician bounding around the state with his guitar singing "Long live Oregonians! We are Oregonians!" Take a look:

And if that wasn't sufficiently twee for you, here's the other ad from the Oregon campaign, featuring a different Portland hipster musician. This one brings the hand-crafted, locally-sourced, free-range health-insurance exchange mojo, and brings it hard:

New York's, naturally, resembles nothing so much as one of those slick ads for retirement investments, complete with that piece of piano music that's been featured in about 500 ads before. It's all friendly, loving people doing optimistic, forward-looking things like painting their apartments, hugging children, smiling at friends and family, and gazing off into the distance as they behold the wonder of a brighter tomorrow:

Apart from the fact that if you blink you'll miss that these are ads about health-insurance exchanges, I think it's absolutely fine that these campaigns stay as far away as they possibly can from the contentiousness that surrounds Obamacare. What's important is that the exchanges operate well and that people use them, not that Barack Obama gets the credit. A few days ago, Jason Cherkis of Huffington Post did a report on efforts to promote Kentucky's exchange, which included a priceless moment in which a middle-aged Kentuckyan looks over the materials about the exchange, seems impressed, and says, "This beats Obamacare I hope." Mission accomplished, sort of.

This is something I've been talking about for years (here's a column I wrote on the topic in 2010): the political problem Obamacare has is that as consumers, at almost no point in our dealings with the healthcare system are we going to interact with something that tells us it's Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act, even as we benefit from its provisions. Your insurance company isn't going to write you a letter saying, "As you confront your new cancer diagnosis, you should know that if it wasn't for Obamacare, we'd be kicking you off your plan or hiking your rates about now." The exchanges are all going to be branded with their state's names, making them seem as home-grown as possible. And no matter how much the law helps people, Republicans are going to continue to bash this thing called Obamacare, so it'll continue to be controversial, no matter how successful it might be on the ground.

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