Spinning the ObamaCare Rollout: A Messaging Case Study

In one of recent history’s most amazing coincidences, the day the federal government “shut down” happens to be the very same day that the statewide health insurance exchanges forming the core of the Affordable Care Act start up. The number of conflicting messages delivered by parties with diametrically opposed goals is enough to make you dizzy.

The big focus so far has been on tech issues. Yesterday Department of Health and Human Services head Kathleen Sebelius told reporters that, because operational glitches are inevitable, the public should “give us the same slack you give Apple”; President Obama made the same argument in a later speech on the shutdown-rollout event. On the other side of the aisle, Fox News debuted a running “ObamaCare glitch watch” thread to chronicle every problem reported by users.

Whatever happens regarding the law, today and the weeks ahead will make for a great case study in future public relations courses because all statements amount to strategic political positioning. It’s almost certainly safe to say that a majority of those logging in and reporting on the exchanges do so with either political or journalistic goals in mind, so here’s a review of competing messages:

 The ACA is to blame for the shutdown:

The ACA is rolling out DESPITE the shutdown:

Glitches are a sign of the law’s inherent weakness:

Glitches occur because the sites are so popular they can’t handle all the traffic:

Insurance costs will soar under the ACA:

Insurance costs have already begun dropping under the ACA:

The ACA is complex and we’ll show you how it works:

The ACA is so complex that no one can possibly understand how it works:

Most Americans remained confused about the law and whether they like it:

Looks like we’ve found one thing everyone can agree on.

Finally, no matter how you might feel about the law, it has become an established brand—and that’s a rare achievement for a piece of legislation.