Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear de-emphasized the connection between the state health-care website and Obamacare. Photographer: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear de-emphasized the connection between the state health-care website and Obamacare. Photographer: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

To understand the politics of health-care reform, you really need to grapple with what’s happening in Kentucky -- and probably elsewhere, too:

In the months before the October 2013 start of the new insurance options under the health care law, [Kentucky Governor Steve] Beshear and his aides prepared extensively. Their strategy was to try to reach Kentuckians everywhere, with enrollment events at state fairs and bourbon festivals, but also to name their insurance website kynect (combining the words “Kentucky” and “connect”) and de-emphasize the link between kynect and the national health care law.
That approach worked. Even Republicans here say that some Kentuckians will criticize Obamacare but in the next breadth [sic] emphasize how well kynect works, as if they are not part of the same law. Kentucky’s health insurance website has had few of the technical problems that have dogged HealthCare.gov.

That’s from a terrific article this morning by Perry Bacon Jr., who looks at why the success of the Affordable Care Act in Kentucky hasn’t prevented Republicans there, including Senator Mitch McConnell, from running against “Obamacare.”

Unfortunately, there’s no supporting detail for this praise of Kynect, but some of you will recall this article, which cited Kentucky residents who said the state exchange sounded much better than that awful Obamacare.

This disconnect hasn't yet been measured by a well-designed poll or any other study, in Kentucky or nationally. Remember, however, that it isn't just in Kentucky that the words “Obamacare” or even “Affordable Care Act” are invisible to consumers; that’s the case nationwide. And that omission doesn't reflect some sort of defensive reaction to bad polling. It’s the way the law was designed to work. As a result, we have no idea how many of the almost 7 million who will have signed up through the exchanges will think of themselves as Obamacare consumers; how many of the 4 to 5 million newly eligible Medicaid sign-ups will think they are; or how many of the roughly 3 million 19 to 25 year-olds on their parents’ plans will think so.

(Don't believe those numbers? See Jonathan Cohn).

Almost everyone reading this knows that healthcare.gov is the Obamacare website. But many Americans probably don't know that. That's because most people pay little attention to politics and public affairs, at least beyond what they need to know at any particular time. And no one needs to know what healthcare.gov or their state-run site has to do with Barack Obama’s health care reform plan.

This further confirms the idea that it’s very possible for the ACA (that is, the actual programs) to be quite successful even when “Obamacare” continues to poll badly. That’s what I’ve been expecting, and so far I don’t see any reason to think I'm wrong.

As I said the other day, this probably means a stalemate: Obamacare continues to poll badly, and for at least a while it may be more of a motivation to vote for its opponents than its supporters. But at the same time, repeal would risk electoral disaster for Republicans.

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Bernstein at Jbernstein62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net.