The fight to save the Affordable Care Act has migrated to a new battleground: Facebook.
Since early September, a viral Facebook status has been making the rounds, claiming that the Trump administration is attempting to sabotage the law by making enrolling in a health plan on Healthcare.gov confusing and difficult.
The wording varies from post to post, but the message is largely the same. It urges users to "copy and paste" and to employ a linguistic trick meant to boost the post's prominence on the social network:
CONGRATULATIONS! The White House is trying to stop you from enrolling in Obamacare. Fortunately, your friends (like me) are posting this and using the word "CONGRATULATIONS" so that Facebook's algorithm shows this to more people. Enrollment for 2018 Affordable Care Act (ACA/Obamacare) starts November 1 and ends December 15. Snopes verified that the enrollment period was shortened and GOP has cut by 90% the funding to advertise these deadlines. Administration is also taking the website down for "maintenance" for 12 hrs at a time on weekends for most of the enrollment period when working people might most likely need to use it - doing what they can to sabotage ACA. (Please leave a comment saying, "Congratulations!" to influence FB's algorithm to increase the visibility of this posting.) THEN, PLEASE COPY AND PASTE ON YOUR OWN TIMELINE.
"[It] sucks when I'm told I don't deserve affordable health care and when it's implied it's my fault I have a pacemaker or need pain meds," says Jackie Todd, a filmmaker who posted the status to her page in September. She believes her chronic heart condition would make her uninsurable, should the Affordable Care Act be repealed.
The "congratulations!" Facebook status offers users the twin satisfactions of doing one's civic duty and hacking Facebook's mysterious "algorithm." And the accusations of sabotage jibe with recent reports that claim the Trump administration is rolling back its support for the law.
At the same time, it's hard not to be skeptical of a random post that appears in your feed.
Should you believe it? Should you share it?
That depends on a few things. And I looked into those things.
Is the information about the ACA in the post accurate? Broadly, yes. Let's break it down:
"Enrollment for 2018 Affordable Care Act (ACA/Obamacare) starts November 1 and ends December 15."
True, according to Healthcare.gov. That's six weeks shorter than the 2016 open enrollment period, which ran from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31.
"Snopes verified that the enrollment period was shortened and GOP has cut by 90% the funding to advertise these deadlines."
Also true, with a caveat. On Aug. 31, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced it would allocate $10 million for its ACA promotional budget, down from $100 million in 2016. The agency claimed that despite doubling advertising funding from 2015 to 2016, "first-time enrollment [declined] by 42 percent," justifying the deep cuts.
As for the caveat? Snopes did verify the information — though the claim that the "GOP" is responsible is not exactly right, as the adjustment was made by the Trump administration, not any particular political party.
"Administration is also taking the website down for 'maintenance' for 12 hrs at a time on weekends for most of the enrollment period when working people might most likely need to use it."
Again, true. In late September, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would be taking Healthcare.gov offline on five Sundays during the open enrollment period, from 12 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Is the "congratulations" tactic an effective way to "hack" Facebook's mysterious algorithm?
Unfortunately, probably not. At least no more so than simply posting the information to Facebook without the "congratulations" attached.
The claim that including "congratulations" in a status boosts a post's ranking on Facebook comes from from a 2014 Wired article, which reported that Mark Zuckerberg proposed the idea himself, after noticing that a post about a colleague's birthday appeared higher on his own feed than a post about the birth of his own niece.
That's not the case today. A Facebook spokesperson said that including highlighted words like "congratulations" (which trigger delightful special effects when clicked) do nothing to improve a post's ranking on the news feed. He noted that posts that feature the word do "tend to get more engagement from people on the platform," which does increase their reach.
So should you post it yourself?
"Anything and everything is helpful in spreading the word," says Lori Lodes, co-founder of Get America Covered. A former director of communications at Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Lodes was responsible for outreach efforts during Healthcare.gov's second and third open enrollment periods. Get America Covered was founded to fill the gaps left by the administration's cutbacks, in part by putting together resources to help individuals encourage those in their social networks to enroll.
In the meantime, Lodes supports sounding the alarm on Facebook.
"The most important thing people can do right now is to get the word out — whether that is talking to friends, sharing on social media or hanging up signs in their neighborhoods," she says.
The next few months will help determine whether the Affordable Care Act thrives or merely survives.
Can anyone really help replace the well-funded, coordinated effort of a large federal bureaucracy?
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.
That part remains to be seen. But it's up to you, regardless.
Please copy and share?