Background: Traditional metrics of the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and health insurance marketplaces in the United States include public opinion polls and marketplace enrollment, which are published with a lag of weeks to months. In this rapidly changing environment, a real-time barometer of public opinion with a mechanism to identify emerging issues would be valuable.
Objective: We sought to evaluate Twitter's role as a real-time barometer of public sentiment on the ACA and to determine if Twitter sentiment (the positivity or negativity of tweets) could be predictive of state-level marketplace enrollment.
Methods: We retrospectively collected 977,303 ACA-related tweets in March 2014 and then tested a correlation of Twitter sentiment with marketplace enrollment by state.
Results: A 0.10 increase in the sentiment score was associated with an 8.7% increase in enrollment at the state level (95% CI 1.32-16.13; P=.02), a correlation that remained significant when adjusting for state Medicaid expansion (P=.02) or use of a state-based marketplace (P=.03).
Conclusions: This correlation indicates Twitter's potential as a real-time monitoring strategy for future marketplace enrollment periods; marketplaces could systematically track Twitter sentiment to more rapidly identify enrollment changes and potentially emerging issues. As a repository of free and accessible consumer-generated opinions, this study reveals a novel role for Twitter in the health policy landscape.
Keywords: affordable care act; health insurance marketplace; social media.