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The Power of the Name

Posted on October 1, 2013 at 9:40 PM

On this, the momentous day that healthcare exchanges opened around the country (including MNsure, a project I had the privilege of working on a few months ago), I watched another brilliant man-on-the-street video by Jimmy Kimmel.  His hypothesis is that on the politically charged issue of healthcare reform, the name matters quite a lot.  

Taking a camera crew out onto the streets, people were asked if they preferred ObamaCare or the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The joke, of course, is that they are one in the same----ObamaCare is the nickname for the ACA.  Though they are the same exact thing, people were passionate and opinionated about which one they liked better.  Some said they liked the ACA, but disliked ObamaCare because it "forced" people to have insurance.  Others felt that ObamaCare "had too many holes," while the ACA was a good program for people who have been without insurance.

The lesson? Names are important.  They carry weight, and can make all the difference in how something is perceived. Years ago I watched a documentary on PBS about wordsmiths in the White House whose sole job is to craft language to change public perceptions.  Example #1:  What had previously been called the "Death Tax" became the "Estate Tax."  Sounds much nicer and less negative.  Example #2:  "Global Warming" slowly morphed into "Climate Change"---less sinister and threatening apparently.

Check out the clip to see just how confused we appear to be about the legislation being rolled out starting today.

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