(A woman demonstrates against US President Barack Obama’s health care reforms in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC after the morning session March 27, 2012. The US Supreme Court Tuesday took up the most contentious part of President Barack Obama’s landmark health care reform, hearing arguments on whether it is constitutional to require Americans to buy insurance coverage. The second day of an unprecedented three days of arguments into the Affordable Care Act, derided by opponents as “Obamacare” but hailed by supporters as a major achievement, has focused national attention on what could be a decisive issue in the 2012 presidential elections. AFP PHOTO/Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images))

Is President Obama losing on the health care “messaging?”

Did the Obama administration lose the “messaging” wars after the historic health care law was passed two years ago?  Today the conservative Supreme Court justices seemed to indicate they might vote against the requirement that all Americans who qualify buy at least minimum health insurance or pay a small penalty. Polls show many Americans – and Latinos – say they don’t want to be “forced” to buy health insurance.  Yet most Americans, including those who already have insurance, or are on Medicaid or Medicare, would not even have to “buy” insurance under the new law.

“It is entirely, 100 percent, a messaging issue,” says University of Washington political scientist Matt Barreto.  ”After the healthcare bill was signed into law, the Democrats offered no fight as those who opposed it kept telling the American public that the law was ‘awful.’  The negative message started resonating,” says Barreto.

Barreto says it is important to note that polls show “a majority of Latinos support healthcare reform. What they do not support is the individual mandate.” Barreto adds “most Americans do not understand how the mandate works.”

According to Rick Palacio, Chair of the Democratic Party in Colorado, “there is a lot of misinformation about the law, especially the individual mandate.”  Palacio believes the law will benefit Latinos, since families on modest incomes will receive subsidies to buy insurance, and Medicaid will be expanded. Currently 1 in 4 Latinos are on Medicaid.

So if few Latinos would have to purchase insurance under the mandate, why did 59 percent of Latinos in a recent poll say they are opposed to this provision?

“The healthcare legislation was a pretty dramatic change,” says political scientist and NBC Latino contributor Victoria de Francesco Soto. “For people to accept something new, they have to be able to understand it,” she adds.

“The Democratic National Committee did not do as much as it could have to inform and advocate about the law,” de Francesco Soto says.

A recent Kantar Media report, she says, shows that critics of President Obama’s healthcare law outspent supporters of the law by a ratio of more than 3 to 1.  Critics spent over 204 million dollars in negative ads, supporters spent less than 58 million in positive ads.

Colorado Democrat Rick Palacio defended the administration’s outreach on the new health care legislation.  ”I think President Obama has done a decent job explaining the issue,” adding “this is really an attempt to educate people in the face of very strong opposition.”

Today, Texas Republican congressman Francisco “Quico” Canseco, who strongly opposes the health care legislation, said “Americans know a government with excessive regulations will only destroy our economy.”  Congressman Canseco said recent polls show two thirds of Americans agree with the Republicans that the current law should be changed.

But Democrats like Palacio think Americans are coming around. “As people start learning about the law the more they like it,” he says.  In his state, Palacio adds, 45 thousand young adults between 19 and 26 were added to their parents’ health insurance plans under the new law, “and the provision that bans insurance companies from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions is incredibly popular here.”

Political analyst Matt Barreto says the Administration could have appealed to Latinos earlier. “Minorities and immigrants have much lower rates of health care coverage,” he says. “They could have used this reach out to more Latinos.”

He adds that “the door is closing” if the Democrats want to win the “message wars” on health care and use it as an election year platform.

For his part, Palacio says he is not worried about his party’s “messaging” when it comes to health care. “At least in my state, people are seeing the real effects of the new law.  It’s incredibly popular.”

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