GOP's Anti-Obamacare Ads May Have Accidentally Boosted Enrollment

Americans for Prosperity's Creepy Uncle Sam starred in a series of ads to deter young people from enrolling in Obamacare. Americans for Prosperity's Creepy Uncle Sam starred in a series of ads to deter young people from enrolling in Obamacare. Wilfredo Lee/AP

A pair of new studies argue that the GOP's anti-Obamacare ads may have actually increased enrollment in blue states and the majority of the people who enrolled — even Republicans — like their plans.

The Commonwealth Fund's survey found that 9.5 million people gained insurance during the Obamacare enrollment period. Of those enrollees, 73 percent are happy with their private insurance plan and 87 percent are happy with Medicaid. Meanwhile the Brookings Institute argues that fewer people might have enrolled if conservative groups like the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity hadn't invested millions of dollars in anti-Obamacare ads. Instead of simply deterring people from enrolling, the ads seem to have raised awareness of health care reform.

The Commonwealth Fund's survey found that the uninsured rate of 19-64 year olds dropped from 20 percent during July-to-September 2013 to 15 percent during April-to-June 2014. In other words, the uninsured rate three months before Obamacare's October through March enrollment period was 5 percent higher than it was during the three months after. Young adults — those under 34 years old — saw their uninsured rate drop from 28 percent to 18 percent. The most damning data point is that the uninsured rate among poor people dropped from 28 percent to 17 percent in states that expanded Medicaid. In states that didn't expand Medicaid, the uninsured rate dropped from 38 percent to 36 percent. 

Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic points out that the data is subjective and there's a large margin of error, but it's clear that "many more people have health insurance and, as a result, many more people can pay their medical bills." And a lot of those people are happy with their insurance:

  • 58 percent said they were better off with Obamacare, 27 percent were the same, and 6 percent were worse off
  • 62 percent said they couldn't have afforded their care before
  • 60 percent of new enrollees visited a doctor by June
  • 74 percent of Republican enrollees like their insurance
  • Of those who tried to find new doctors (21 percent), 75 percent said it was easy or somewhat easy, while 25 percent said it was difficult or impossible 

Obamacare detractors are at least partly to blame for the enrollment numbers. AsNiam Yaraghi at the Brookings Institute argued Wednesday, anti-Obamacare ads reduced enrollment in red states, but in blue states there's "a positive association between the anti-ACA spending and ACA enrollment." That's either because the ads raised awareness of health care reform, or because people wanted to get insurance while they still can.

The positive association "implies that anti-ACA ads may unintentionally increase the public awareness about the existence of a governmentally subsidized service and its benefits for the uninsured," according to Yaraghi. At the same time, people who — thanks to ads — think Congress will repeal and replace Obamacare, "could have a greater willingness to take advantage of this one time opportunity." 

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