ObamaCare's Missed Marketing Opportunity

As the dust settles on the March 31 enrollment deadline of the Affordable Care Act, politicians and pundits are weighing in on the success (or failure) of the law after its first official milestone to get seven million sign-ups. No matter your opinion on the ambitious, controversial plan to reform our national health care system, we can all agree it’s been a bumpy ride for the Obama administration, from Republican road-blocking through Congress to the PR disaster to “oopsie” insurance cancellations, and now Kathleen Sebelius' resignation. While the Obama Administration spent $700 million in marketing to convince the uninsured to click for coverage, perhaps some of that budget should have been spent marketing ObamaCare to its naysayers.

Let’s face it, anything that even remotely resembles socialized medicine as a government-mandated law was bound to be the equivalent of throwing a stick of dynamite in the middle of the country—sure to ignite flames. For dyed-in-the wool Democrats and “liberals”, selling this idea is a no-brainer. Their intent of ObamaCare is aligned with the deeply felt conviction that the federal government should take care of the people, especially those that cannot take care of themselves.
On the other side of the fence, Republicans and conservatives believe that government should play a more minimal role in individual lives and should not act as a parent to its citizens. This opposition was reinforced by the AMA and the insurance industry,—both of whom felt strongly that attempting to control the healthcare marketplace would only result in disaster. Add to that, this was a serious game of politics: for the congressional GOP, if ObamaCare had failed to become law, it would have been a “win” for Republican party and prime the GOP pump for the 2016 Presidential race. 



We must ask ourselves if there was a way to avoid divisiveness and bitterness on both sides of the aisle.. And this leads us to also wonder if the marketing funds that were spent to explain why we need the Affordable Care Act might have been more effective if they had integrated the recognition of the two distinct sets of values—and two separate visions of the role of government—that exist in this country.

Instead of hammering the same ideas over and over, perhaps the government should have proceeded like a marketing team would do at any major American corporation: Begin by acknowledging the “target market” for selling ObamaCare consists of two very different “segments.” Next develop two distinct sets of “product positions” aimed at the mindsets of these two key target groups; and finally create a “media plan” focused on getting the right persuasive arguments in front of the appropriate targets that those arguments were designed to persuade.

On the one hand, we can talk about ObamaCare as the product of responsible government in the wealthiest country in the world, where we can and should ensure that all Americans have a basic right to healthcare as an element of their “pursuit of happiness.” This message is the right one for the more “liberal/socially minded” segment of Americans.

One the other hand, we can acknowledge that government-supported healthcare is good for the country because it makes pragmatic financial sense and is fiscally responsible. We are currently hemorrhaging government funds every day to treat 30 million uninsured patients when they need emergency care, long-term treatment, or other routine medical attention. It’s good economic policy to control these spiraling healthcare costs. This message is the right one for the more “conservative/economically minded” segment of Americans. 

At this point, 7.1 million people now have coverage who did not before—and this is a huge achievement no matter how you view it. But for our philosophically divided country to embrace this accomplishment, we need to understand how to “position” it to two very different audiences, with two very different views on the job of government. For example, in reaching those who continue to oppose ObamaCare, a series of messages stressing the fiscal achievements that derive from the program will be critical. We can’t solve the emotionally charged political divide in our country—but we can get better at crafting messages that reach out to both sides.

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