White House changes course on the word 'Obamacare'

A pamphlet for the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, sits on a table at a branch of the Metopolitan Family Health network, on October 3, 2013 in Jersey City, N.J.

The Edsel, New Coke …Obamacare.

Has the launch of the most far-reaching social program in a generation been so stunningly awful that it deserves a spot with these classic failures?

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama said the time has come to "remarket and rebrand" the healthcare law.

First things first, "Obamacare," is out. The "Affordable Care Act," is in.

In an hour-long speech last week, the president didn’t utter the word, "Obamacare," once. 

“Sure enough if you say 'Obamacare,' ... you get the most negative reaction,” says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief at Gallup, the polling giant.

Newport says new research out this week reveals the difference in the reaction to the two labels.

Gallup found only 38 percent of Americans approve when they heard "Obamacare," but approval jumped to 45 percent when saying "Affordable Care Act."

Of course, the larger point is no matter what you call it, more than half of Americans still don’t like the new healthcare law.

"The North Star here for the Obama Administration on this issue is trust," says public relations crisis consultant Chris Lehane.

Lehane – who worked in the Clinton White House and knows his share of controversy – says rebranding means re-establishing credibility.

"Every single comment that’s made, every single action that’s taken, almost every thought that’s being considered needs to be considered through the prism does this enhance our credibility or imperil our credibility," he says.

Lehane says even if they are modest, the White House must string together a series of accomplishments to prove the administration can deliver.

And still, Republicans are trying to undermine the law – they’ve got a 17-page battle plan. plus the law is now under competition from insurers.

Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield has released three commercials in Iowa and South Dakota with the tag line, "things don’t always work like they are supposed to. Good thing the government exchange website isn’t the only place to buy health insurance."

But however Obamacare/the Affordable Care Act ultimately gets remade, it’s got one big advantage over New Coke, people have to have insurance, it’s the law.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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