Publication / DecodeDC/ Scripps
July 14, 2014
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File under unexpected: Anti-Obamacare ads actually linked to increased enrollment in some states

Commercials effectively became PSAs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressional candidates opposed to the Affordable Care Act have spent $450 million on commercials attacking the controversial health care plan, but the effort seems to be backfiring in blue states.

Anti-Obamacare advertisements in some liberally inclined states are actually helping health care exchange enrollments, according to a new Brookings Institution analysis.

The study, done by Brookings fellow Niam Yaraghi, compared ACA enrollment data released by the Department of Health and Human Services in May to a map by Kantar Media CMAG that tracks anti-Obamacare ads across the United States.

Yaraghi calculated a ratio based on the number of Obamacare enrollees divided by the number of people who potentially could have enrolled, and concluded that negative ads kept a lid on enrollment in red states and had the opposite effect in blue states.

Enrollment Ratio and Per Capita Anti-ACA Advertising

The blue dots represent the states in which Senate Democrats are up for re-election in 2014, while the red dots represent the states in which Republican Senators are running for re-election. The states in which no Senate midterm elections are held are shown in green.

That’s probably not the outcome people spending money on the ads in blue states expected. But Yaraghi surmised the result might be linked to an inadvertent increase of public awareness about the health care exchanges following the release of the ads.

“This 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,” Yaraghi wrote in his findings.

In other words, the commercials effectively acted as a PSA for the ACA.

But Yaraghi also has an alternate theory for his findings. According to him, other studies have found that people in states inundated with the largest amount of negative Obamacare ads largely believe that an appeal of the ACA is inevitable. Because of that line of thinking, Yaraghi says it is possible that people in the highly advertised blue states who held this point of view signed up for the ACA as a “one-time deal.”