Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Explain Obamacare at last

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
July 30, 2013 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says a lack of explanation of Obamacare has left room for critics to distort it, as in the
Dean Obeidallah says a lack of explanation of Obamacare has left room for critics to distort it, as in the "ObamaCareNado" ad.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dean Obeidallah says the administration has done a poor job of explaining Obamacare
  • He says the plan has many popular features, but the public doesn't fully understand it
  • A failure to explain has left room for Republicans to distort it, he says
  • Obeidallah: Administration has belatedly moved to tout the benefits of Obamacare

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the editor of the politics blog The Dean's Report. Follow him on Twitter @deanofcomedy.

(CNN) -- Can someone please explain to me the details of Obamacare? And when I say "someone," I'm looking at you, President Obama -- or at least members of your administration.

I can't fathom how Obama, one of the best orators of modern-day politics, could be such a poor advocate for what's arguably the crowning legislative achievement of his administration. I can assure you that if there were a law named after me -- such as "Obeidallahcare" or "Deanaid" -- I would be crisscrossing the country explaining it so people would understand and support it.

Sure, most of us get the broad strokes of the Affordable Care Act commonly known as Obamacare: the individual mandate, coverage for the uninsured, children on parents' policy until 26, carriers cannot deny you coverage or charge you more due to a pre-existing condition. But the law is close to 1,000 pages and will spur hundreds, if not thousands, of regulations. What else does the law offer, and how will Americans be able to gain access to its benefits?

Will Obamacare help primary care?

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

We hear about state health insurance exchanges going into effect in October, but in the same breath we hear that many governors won't implement them. We hear about the individual mandate obligating everyone to buy health insurance by 2014 or face a penalty, but then we hear the Obama administration has delayed the requirement that employers with more than 50 employees be required to provide health coverage until 2015.

It's remarkable that there's such confusion surrounding a piece of legislation signed into law more than three years ago -- in March 2010. And I'm far from alone on this. A poll in April found that 40% of Americans didn't even know if Obamacare is still in effect, which translates into roughly 130 million Americans not even knowing if the law still exists, let alone understanding the details of it.

Even more concerning is that a recent poll of doctors found by a wide margin that they are "not at all familiar" with how certain key provisions of the law will be implemented. And astoundingly, it appears that Democratic members of Congress don't even fully grasp how Obamacare will be put into effect. That point was made crystal clear when Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, one of the early champions of the law, recently labeled the rollout of Obamacare "a huge train wreck coming down." In response, Obama's chief of staff has been spending time over the past three months giving presentations to Democrats in Congress so they can better understand the law.

Who loses out under Obamacare?

Business owners still split on Obamacare
Obamacare requirement is delayed
Cruz focused on defunding Obamacare

What's even more surprising is that Obama has allowed the void of information from his end to be filled almost unchallenged by Republicans, who have been actively working to define the law in the worst possible terms. Unless Obama is mimicking the rope-a-dope fighting strategy made famous by Muhammad Ali, his administration's outreach to the public on Obamacare has been an abysmal failure.

The consequence of Obama ceding the battlefield can be seen in a new poll that found 54% of Americans disapprove of the law and a record-high 39% want Congress to repeal it. The poll also found just 13% of Americans say the health care law will personally "help me," but 38% believe the law will personally "hurt me."

Maybe it was these poll numbers or perhaps being pushed by members of his own party, but it seems that Obama is finally aware of the public relations nightmare and possible policy failure staring him in the face. The administration has recently started organizing faith-based and community groups to help get out the word. The federal government just launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to educate people about coverage options under Obamacare.

It has even secured the support of the people at the Funny or Die comedy website to produce videos with well-known comedic actors explaining Obamacare -- because nothing says "comedy gold" like a law about health insurance.

Obama meets with celebs who want to promote Obamacare

But why didn't Obama utilize his great communication skills to explain this law to us sooner? Why hasn't he traveled across the country waging something akin to his election campaign to sell his program?

And it's not like Obama doesn't see the value in taking his ideas directly to the American public to build support. Indeed, we saw Obama use this very tactic last week as he kicked off the first of a series of speeches regarding his proposals to strengthen and grow the economy. The president did mention Obamacare in that speech, pointing out that "the states that have committed themselves to making this law work are finding that competition and choice are actually pushing costs down. Just last week, New York announced that premiums for consumers who buy their insurance in these online marketplaces will be at least 50% less than what they pay today."

And what's even more bizarre is that polls show strong support for many key provisions of Obamacare. The president could have (and should have) been touting these popular parts of the law for years, given that 61% of Americans favor allowing children to stay on the policy until they are 26 and 82% like the ban on insurance carriers from denying coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

Could it be that Obama isn't waging such a campaign because even he can't explain this mammoth program in a way that will attract support? Is it possible that the president's idealistic dream of what Obamacare was intended to be has been replaced three years later by an administrative nightmare?

The real reason why the Obama administration has remained largely invisible as Republicans have pummeled Obamacare may never truly be known. But it's clear that Obamacare needs a massive infusion of PR care if it is going to succeed.

Watch: Two sides of Obamacare

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 29, 2014 -- Updated 0430 GMT (1230 HKT)
Les Abend: Before we reach a conclusion on the outcome of AirAsia Flight QZ8501, it's important to understand that the details are far too limited to draw a parallel to Flight 370
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT