TIME Health Care

White House Embraces March Madness To Sell Obamacare

President Obama And First Lady Speak at Miami High School
Larry Marano—WireImage/Getty Images

The Obama administration is banking on the popularity of the NCAA men's basketball tournament to sell the Affordable Care Act to young Americans by using athletes, coaches and sports celebrities to encourage more youth to sign up

The Obama administration is getting a case of March Madnesss for its latest effort to reach young and healthy consumers who have been slow to sign up for insurance under the new health care reform law, two weeks before a critical enrollment deadline.

The administration has marshaled athletes, coaches, and sports celebrities to help sell the law to the so-called “young invincibles,” whose participation is vital to the success of the insurance marketplaces, according to a White House official who described the blitz. Just 25 percent of enrollees are aged 18-35, well below the administration’s target.

The field of teams in the college basketball tournament was set to be chosen on Sunday, also known as “Selection Sunday.” On Monday, the White House will release a “16 Sweetest Reasons to Get Covered” bracket listing the top reasons to get health insurance, along with a new web video featuring top college basketball coaches. The bracket will be updated all week to reflect the results of an online survey. The bracket is timed to coincide with the release of President Barack Obama’s selections for his own NCAA tournament bracket on Wednesday, the White House official said.

Additionally, ads paid for by the Department of Health and Human Services featuring LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning will air during March Madness games and on ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBAtv, while the agency is targeting digital ads to basketball supporters. Administration officials including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer have called into sports radio stations across the country to promote insurance enrollment.

The effort follows Obama’s appearance in a Funny Or Die Web video, “Between Two Ferns,” as well as a call-in to Ryan Seacrest’s radio show.

Last week the administration announced that 4.2 million Americans have enrolled in coverage through federal and state health care exchanges, well below the initial seven million projection and the revised six million projection from the Congressional Budget Office. The White House has said that the final weeks of the enrollment period are when they expect to see a surge in enrollment, particularly among young people, to avoid the law’s tax penalty for not having coverage.

More from a White House official on the latest enrollment push:

Building on our efforts to reach young consumers where they are during the final weeks of open enrollment, next week the Obama administration, well-known athletes, coaches, and other influencers are launching a push around March Madness to encourage tournament fans young and old to sign up for insurance by March 31. This effort will feature PSAs from athletes and coaches, new digital engagement tools and social media blitzes, and targeted interviews on sports radio, including Spanish Language sports radio, throughout the week. Officials from the White House and across the Administration, including many who are former basketball players, will participate in various ways, including White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, White House Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer, White House Senior Advisor Phil Schiliro, and Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan.

For example, on Monday morning, the White house will release a “16 Sweetest Reasons to Get Covered” bracket listing the top reasons to get health insurance. To introduce the bracket, the White House will release a new online video featuring two of the most recognized coaches in college basketball, talking about the importance of getting health insurance and making sure consumers know about the upcoming March 31st deadline.

Each day the ACA bracket will be updated based on the “winning” votes from online users. On Wednesday, when the President’s NCAA bracket is released, it will be incorporated into the 16 Sweetest Reasons to Get Covered bracket webpage on WhiteHouse.gov. The release of the President’s NCAA bracket last year got over 280,000 views, and was the most popular blog of the year on WhiteHouse.gov.

Next week, a new CMS ad featuring LeBron James will begin airing during March Madness games, as part of the agency’s existing ad rotation running on ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBAtv. LeBron’s ad joins similar 30 second spots CMS has been airing that feature Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning sharing their compelling health care stories and highlighting the importance of getting covered, even for young folks who may think they’ve invincible.

HHS and Healthcare.gov social media channels will be promoting enrollment by joining the online conversation during the NCAA tournament with graphics, posts and paid promotion targeted to basketball fans. Secretary Sebelius, a big college basketball fan, will be tweeting about the tournament throughout the tournament, especially about the Kansas Jayhawks.

On Thursday, athletes involved with the ongoing health care enrollment campaign being spearheaded by Gameplan4me.com will help drive a social media day of action, pushing out #GetCoveredNow messages to drive traffic to their site, which links to HealthCare.gov. GamePlan4Me.com is a unique partnership between the sports industry and athletes like Kobe Bryant and Victor Cruz, that encourages young people to make healthy decisions about their future, which includes signing up for health insurance.

On Monday, Univision Radio’s Locura Deportiva will air an interview with President Obama. Additionally, the ESPN Deportes network will air an interview with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on its syndicated network of stations, which include Miami, Houston, Dallas, and Phoenix. And ESPN Deportes will also air a PSA featuring Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, will air 25 times each week between now and the March 31st enrollment deadline.

And throughout next week, Secretary Duncan, Denis McDonough, and Phil Schiliro will conduct interviews on several sports talk radio stations across the nation to discuss the importance of getting covered ahead of the March 31st deadline. On Monday, March 17, Dan Rooney, Chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers will be interviewed by a leading Pittsburgh radio station to discuss the importance of having health care coverage.

Next week’s push builds upon the Administrations already extensive outreach to sports radio stations across the country. Since February 27, Denis McDonough and Dan Pfeiffer have done interviews with sports talk stations in major enrollment media markets to highlight the importance of health care coverage, reaching listeners in Atlanta, Austin, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Miami, Nashville, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, and Tampa.

This effort also builds on the innovative strategies the Administration and stakeholders have been using to reach young people where they are, including by appealing to them through their mothers, who are often are the primary influences in the health care decisions of their adult children. Last week, Funny or Die released an interview of the President on Between Two Ferns, which as of Friday had over 15 million views and linked to HealthCare.gov. On Friday, an interview the President did with WebMD aired on the platform’s website, which has 156 million views per month – over 60 percent of which are women. And on Friday, a new online video campaign, YourMomCares, was launched by outside organizations, featuring the mothers of celebrities like Jonah Hill, Adam Levine, Jennifer Lopez and Alicia Keys, and the First Lady, all talking about the importance of getting covered.

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