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What’s in a Name? ‘Obamacare’ vs. ‘Trumpcare’ vs. ‘Ryancare’

Politics defines health care plan labeling

Democrats and Republicans tested out their own nomenclature for the GOP’s health care plan on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Democrats and Republicans tested out their own nomenclature for the GOP’s health care plan on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Hours after House Republicans released their health care plan, GOP and Democratic critics were coming up with their own nicknames for the repeal and replace bill, each of which is riddled with not-so-subtle political messages ahead of next year’s midterm elections.

On the Senate floor Tuesday morning, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer called the plan “Trumpcare.”

“Trumpcare will make health insurance in America measurably worse in just about every way and likely leave more Americans uninsured,” the New York Democrat said.

The acronym for the American Health Care Act, as the GOP plan is officially called, is only one letter off from the 2010 health care law known as the Affordable Care Act. The new plan’s dry name is an opportunity for its critics to rebrand it in much the same way that Republicans used “Obamacare” pejoratively to brand the 2010 law.

Democrats know what it’s like to be the targets of that strategy.

“When the GOP turned the ACA into Obamacare they turned a bill that many GOP voters would like because it provided them affordable health care into a referendum on a president whom their voters hated,” said a Democratic strategist involved in congressional elections at the time.

Over time, however, Democrats embraced the name as the legislation’s benefits became more apparent, said Martha McKenna, a former political director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

That didn’t dull GOP attacks, though. Since passage of the 2010 health care law, criticizing Democrats who’ve ever expressed any sympathy for the law has been a ubiquitous line of attack from congressional Republicans.

A January Morning Consult poll suggested that strategy may have worked, at least when it came to confusing voters about President Barack Obama’s signature legislation. One-third of respondents in the online survey did not know that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare were synonymous.

But now that the roles are reversed, Democrats are starting to adopt a similar strategy. The Democratic National Committee blasted out a CNBC story about S&P estimates of how many people may lose coverage under the GOP’s plan, with “#Trumpcare” in the subject line Tuesday afternoon.

The Democratic campaign committees have not yet adopted a nickname for the GOP plan, but the flood of press releases — from lawmakers, parties and outside groups — is only just beginning.

The first word in Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner’s Tuesday afternoon statement on the Republican plan was “Trumpcare.”
“Trumpcare, the House Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, will cover less and cost more, and lead millions of Americans to lose coverage altogether,” Warner said. His four-sentence statement used the moniker three more times.

Democrats don’t necessarily need a nickname for the GOP proposal to message against it, said one strategist, because the legislation speaks for itself. “We didn’t need to call Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security ‘BushCurity’ in order for the country to turn against it because it was a bad idea,” he said.

But McKenna predicts the “Trumpcare” label will stick, and Democrats will likely rally around it in 2018.

“Trumpcare is about taking care of CEOs at the expense of the rest of us,” she said. The GOP health care plan would lift limitations for insurance companies on how much CEO compensation they can claim as tax deductible. “It makes it very easy to understand. It’s catchy,” McKenna said. “Calling it Trumpcare is perfect.”

Asked at Tuesday’s White House press briefing whether the plan should be called “Trumpcare,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price demurred. “I’ll let others provide a description for it,” he said, adding that he preferred to call it “Patientcare.”

“We’re less concerned with labels right now and more with actions and results,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said when asked a similar question.

But when it comes to taking action on the GOP legislation, the various nicknames that conservative groups are using to slam the bill are complicating leadership’s ability to sell it to the entire conference.

The Club for Growth, the conservative anti-tax group that has often supported primary challengers to Republican incumbents, called the GOP’s plan “Ryancare” on Tuesday.

“We’re just giving credit where credit is due,” communications director Doug Sachtleben said.

If significant changes aren’t made to the GOP proposal, the club plans to key vote the legislation, which means members’ votes for or against it will be part of their Club for Growth scorecards. Voting for this legislation alone wouldn’t be enough to get the club to support a viable primary challenger, but Sachtleben called this vote “a significant factor” in that calculation.

Other conservative groups, like Freedom Partners and Americans for Prosperity, have dubbed the GOP legislation “Obamacare 2.0” or “Obamacare Lite” to attack a bill they think is too similar to the legislation it’s supposed to replace.

“Passing it would be making the same mistake that President Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi made in 2010,” those two conservative groups wrote in a letter to House GOP leadership Tuesday.

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