How Third Way Rescued the Affordable Care Act
By the summer of 2009, the Affordable Care Act was tanking, with New York Times headlines predicting it could be “dead on arrival” on the floor of Congress. The reason? Democrats were selling it the wrong way. Third Way was the only group in DC that understood why.
Our own public opinion research showed that less than a third of voters thought Obamacare would help people like them. The Administration was marketing the ACA as a way of covering the uninsured, but 83% of Americans—and 82% of voters—already had stable coverage through either the government or their employer. Our research revealed that instead of seeing the ACA as a new benefit being offered to them, those insured Americans viewed it as a request being made of them to support the uninsured. Not surprisingly, they believed the ACA would leave them worse off.
But we also found the solution in our data. What people actually wanted was simple: security and stability. And the Affordable Care Act had a lot of major policy changes to offer on that front—no lifetime caps, a ban on preexisting conditions, and allowing kids to stay on their parents’ plans longer.
Alarmed by the direction the Obama Administration was going, we brought our findings to a top White House aide. We told him that to stop Republicans from killing the ACA, the Administration needed to focus mainly on what the middle class would be getting from the bill: stability and security. By the end of the meeting, he knew we were right.
Within a few weeks, the messaging changed. The president made “stability and security” the theme of his address to Congress later that summer—the same aide called us on the day of the speech to tell us that we were “going to love it.” The White House even handed out laminated cards to every House and Senate Democrat on the floor with “stability and security” bolded at the top as the key message. And as Third Way’s framing took hold, the politics of the ACA shifted enough for it to pass in 2010, offering financial and medical security for tens of millions of Americans.
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