5 Makeover Tips for Obamacare
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The Fiscal Times
November 24, 2013

President Obama and his advisers have another major challenge ahead if they are serious about rebranding and remarketing the troubled Affordable Care Act after a disastrous six-week rollout. Health care strategists and policy experts consulted by The Fiscal Times say there are a few ways the administration can succeed in this task – including following some of the steps they already seem to be taking.

Here are five tips that could save Obamacare's tarnished image:

Get rid of “Obamacare” The White House has embraced the nickname “Obamacare” for the president’s signature health care law, but the avalanche of bad headlines surrounding “Obamacare’s” disastrous rollout have scorned the law’s reputation with the public under that moniker.

A new Gallup poll released this week shows that when asked if they support the “Affordable Care Act,” 48 percent agreed. But when asked whether they supported “Obamacare,” that figure dropped to 38 percent. The revelation hasn’t been lost on the White House.

Related: Low Obamacare Enrollment More Proof of Disaster

In a televised press conference last week, the president never referred to his health care law as “Obamacare,” as he has done in the past. Instead, he stuck to calling it the “Affordable Care Act.” Similarly, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, one of the law’s staunchest supporters, corrected David Gregory on “Meet the Press” last Sunday when he referred to the law as “Obamacare.” 

Focus on what works While problems with the website continue to give consumers headaches, administration officials and health care advocates are directing people to use alternative ways to sign up for insurance through the exchanges, including through call centers, navigators and direct enrollment through insurance companies.

“We’ve certainly emphasized there are other ways to enroll. The website isn’t the only way to sign up,” said Nisly, the press secretary for Enroll America. “A lot of people have had good luck with calling the hotline.”

While headlines have focused on the millions of people whose plans have been cancelled under the ACA, groups like Families USA are looking on the bright side and noting that the majority of those people will qualify for federal subsidies, which will allow them to obtain more affordable, robust health coverage.

Set Realistic Expectations The administration has promised to have the website running “smoothly for the vast majority of users” by Nov 30. But it continues to be plagued by technical problems, including a spate of unexpected outages to the main data hub. Though CMS officials say the site is improving “each and every day,” its latest outage occurred Wednesday, just a little over a week until the deadline.

Still, officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services insist they are on track to meet their target deadline. But some question the decision to set a hard deadline in the first place, since a failure to meet it would present more problems for the White House.

Related: No Hope Left for Obamacare’s Website, Techies Say

“It’s not going to restore confidence in the program if that doesn’t happen,” Mark McClellan, a senior fellow and director of the Health Care Innovation and Value Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

McClellan, a former CMS administrator who presided over the rollout of the Medicare Part D prescription drug program in 2006, said when Medicare Part D began experiencing problems, they began regularly informing the public on the program’s progress but never set a hard deadline on when it would be resolved.

“I think that helped more than if we had said this program is going to be fixed by Feb. 1,” McClellan said.

Transparency Since the website’s troubled launch, CMS officials have routinely held a daily briefing with reporters to update the public on the website’s progress. But up until last week, the administration had been tightlipped about how many people were actually enrolling in the program. During Medicare Part D’s bumpy rollout, McClellan said they regularly briefed the public on program specifics.

“We started reporting regularly on what we knew about the problems and what we were doing about it, but also releasing numbers we thought were meaningful and the press and public did, too,” McClellan said. “We were confident we were going to be able to fix the problem, but we were not sure exactly how long it would take. We focused more on letting people know what the situation was.”

Anticipate problems ahead Once the website issues are resolved and more people begin enrolling in the exchanges, a whole host of new issues could crop up. For instance, tax preparers are already worried that the Internal Revenue Service won’t be prepared to enforce the 46 new provisions created under the new health care law. “The expectation is that the forms will not be ready on time and our clients will have to wait until the middle of tax season to file,” said Dave Du Val, vice president of tax services at TaxResources.com

Experts advise the Obama administration to be prepared for the worst. It really takes end-to-end strategic focus, though, not just fixing the problem of the day but anticipating and being ready to address the predictable challenges that are coming,” McClellan said. I’m talking … everything from the point of connecting people who want coverage with coverage they actually want and need.”

Follow Brianna Ehley on Twitter @BriannaEhley

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Washington Correspondent Brianna Ehley, based in D.C., covers Congress, government agencies and spending issues, health care, and tax and economic policy for The Fiscal Times.