Saturday, August 10, 2013

Advertising, Truth and the Affordable Care Act

The story of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is an elusive saga in the public conversation.

It is at once talked about, yet not sufficiently understood.

In April of 2013, a nation-wide survey of adults by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that about 50 percent say they do not have enough information about this new law to understand how it will impact their own families. Indeed, about 40 percent say they are either unaware or confused about the status of the ACA.

Moreover, the Kaiser survey also shows fading support for the ACA among American adults ages 18 and older.

Since April of 2010, favorable opinions for the ACA have dropped 11 percentage points from 46 to 35 percent, while unfavorable opinions remain at 40 percent. The group reporting they don't know their opinion or refusing to answer the question increased 10 points from 14 to 24 percent. The margin of sampling error is 3 percentage points.

These polling trends point toward January of 2014, when the ACA policies are to go into full effect. The growing proportion of adults who say they "don't know" suggests public support is waning due to the absence of clearly conveyed information. The voices in support of the ACA have been losing the day.

Between now and then, Americans will encounter an increasing public information tumult surrounding the ACA. There will be reporting by newspapers, cable news, and broadcast news. There will be 18 state-sponsored enrollment advertising campaigns for their health care insurance exchanges. Advocacy advertising campaigns will be sponsored by supporting and opposing groups.

What information source may prove most useful to the public at this critical time?

It is important that we recognize there is only one form of mass communication that must be truthful by law. That source is advertising that is "in commerce," meaning that it offers a product or service for sale. All other sources, including news, commentary, advocacy advertising, political advertising, and the Internet in general, are not subject to this important legal requirement to be truthful.

We are in the midst of a new and confusing milieu for information in the public sphere. Truth is becoming increasingly elusive in a world in which information sources are at once rapidly growing in number, and increasingly pervasive, subtle and invasive.

As we move further into this confusing new reality, commercial advertising for products and services must emerge as the only source of mass communication that adheres to the legal standard of truth.

  Copyright © 2013 by John Eighmey. All Rights Reserved.

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