Abstract

Context: Medicaid is the largest health insurance program by enrollment in the United States. The program varies across states across a variety of dimensions, including what it's called; some states use state-specific naming conventions (e.g., MassHealth in Massachusetts).

Methods: In a pre-registered online survey experiment (n = 5,807), we test whether public opinion shifts in response to the use of state-specific Medicaid program names or the provision of information about program enrollment.

Findings: We find that replacing “Medicaid” with a state-specific name results in a large increase in the share of respondents reporting that they “haven't heard enough to say” how they feel about the program. This corresponds to a decrease in both favorable and unfavorable attitudes toward the program. Though confusion increases among all partisan groups, there is evidence that the state-specific names may also strengthen positive perceptions among Republicans. Providing enrollment information generally does not affect public opinion.

Conclusions: Our findings offer suggestive evidence that state-specific program names may muddle understanding of the program as a government-provided benefit. Policymakers seeking to bolster support for the program or claim credit for expanding or improving it may be better served simply referring to it as “Medicaid.”

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