On Tuesday, the Affordable Care Act – the long-awaited and controversial US health care program also known as “Obamacare” – launched amid a US government shutdown and a host of technical glitches. A bungling of presidential proportions? Not necessarily.
The federally-mandated marketplaces that are the cornerstone of the new US health system opened for business on October 1. That’s the same day a Congressionally-led shutdown, sparked by the program’s opponents, closed iconic American memorials and national parks and furloughed more than 800,000 workers. As if that weren’t inauspicious enough, millions of Americans were met with error messages when they tried to check out their state’s exchanges, many of which are managed by the federal government through its healthcare.gov portal.
But these factors didn’t cast a PR pall over the program – at least not initially. The fact that the health care exchanges opened on time, despite a government shutdown, was a PR coup. It also seemed to elevate the program above the Congressional bickering that has come off as childish and impotent. As for the technical problems, they’re being met with a shrug. These days, inability to immediately access the latest technology platform has become almost de rigueur; opening-day delays imply overwhelming demand. For Obamacare, there will be a short grace period for the program to get its act together and start signing people up. After that, though, all bets are off.
THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the launch of the Affordable Care Act, debuting in a timely manner and piquing the interest of millions of Americans.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: The show must go on. Having come this far, President Obama would have invited a PR disaster had he given in to demands to delay the launch of the health insurance exchanges. If the product is useful, intriguing, or novel enough, consumers are willing to endure a few headaches at the outset. All that said, the countdown has begun: Obamacare needs happy customers, and soon, if its going to establish itself as the viable solution to America’s health care woes.