The smiling woman who was once the face of the Affordable Care Act’s website has come out of the shadows to stand up to the “cyberbullying” she says she suffered after the law’s flawed kickoff.
“Adriana” Bullied Model From Obamacare Site
Speaking exclusively to ABC News, Adriana, who asked that only her first name be used, said she was speaking out now to defend herself after weeks of enduring online lampooning.
“They have nothing else to do but hide behind the computer. They’re cyberbullying,” Adriana told ABC News’ Amy Robach.
“I’m here to stand up for myself and defend myself and let people know the truth,” she said.
On Oct. 1, 2013, when the ACA’s website launched to enroll Americans in health insurance through federally run exchanges, it was Adriana’s face that greeted them.
Dubbed the “enigmatic Mona Lisa of health care,” her face was soon mocked, Photoshoped, altered. She became the subject of late-night jokes, partisan hatred and intense speculation.
The saga of the photo started innocuously enough. Seeking free family photographs, Adriana emailed a contact at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency responsible for the Affordable Care Act’s rollout, about having photos of her and her family taken in exchange for allowing the photos to be used to market the new health care law. She was never paid.
She learned over the summer that her photo would be on healthcare.gov’s main page, but she didn’t realize it would become so closely associated with the problems of the glitchy website.
“I mean, I don’t know why people should hate me because it’s just a photo. I didn’t design the website. I didn’t make it fail, so I don’t think they should have any reasons to hate me,” Adriana told ABC News.
Speculation swirled that Adriana might not be a legal resident of the United States, and therefore not even eligible for the health care exchanges. Adriana said she is a wife and mother who lives in Maryland with her 21-month-old son and husband of six and a half years. Her husband is a U.S. citizen, as is his her son. Adriana, who is Colombian, said she has lived legally in the U.S. for more than six years, is currently a permanent resident and is applying for citizenship.
Though she is eligible for healthcare through the ACA, Adriana says she hasn’t signed up for it, and is neither in favor nor against it.
She said that while she knew her photo would be used on the healthcare.gov website, she was stunned at the negative reception.
“Like I said it was shocking. It was upsetting. It was sad. We were having a hard day when we read all this,” she said. “And in a way, I’m glad that my son is not old enough to understand, because you know whatever happens to you, it hurts them too.”
About two weeks ago, her photo was removed from the site and replaced by several icons. “That was a relief,” she said.
“They took the picture down. I wanted the picture down, and they wanted the picture down. I don’t think anybody wanted to focus on the picture.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said that Adriana’s photo was removed because “Healthcare.gov is a dynamic website,” not because she requested it.
“The individuals in the images that we used for the launch of the website redesign in June and through the beginning of open enrollment signed standard releases and understood how their images would be used,” said the HHS spokesperson. “We transitioned to new graphics because we believe they provide a better way to visually reinforce key information to users about options for applying at this point in time.”
Now that it’s over, Adriana said she could find a bit of humor in the jokes, even in political satirist and TV host Stephen Colbert calling her that “vaguely ethnic smiling woman.”
“I’m pure Colombian,” she said, laughing.
“They didn’t ruin my life. I still have a job, I’m still married,” Adriana said. “That didn’t really crush me to the ground. I’m fine. Now I laugh about it.”