Celebrity promotions seek to boost health care enrollment

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WASHINGTON — The Sexiest Man Alive is being enlisted to add some spice to signing up for Obamacare.

Pop singer Adam Levine, who won the designation from People magazine last month, is among celebrities promoting enrollment in online health insurance exchanges as part of a new social media campaign.

With enrollment totals behind administration projections after the botched startup of the federal exchange, 17 state exchanges joined by an advocacy group are drawing on Obama administration allies in entertainment and sports to promote sign-ups, using social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Reprising a tactic President Obama employed in his 2012 re-election campaign, organizers plan to use celebrity promotions and professionally produced videos aimed at inspiring Americans to encourage friends to enroll. The goal is generating 100 million Internet contacts before open enrollment closes March 31.

"The idea is a drumbeat of dialogue, a drumbeat of discussion about coverage -- not about glitches, not about the politics, not about the pundits," said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, the state's insurance exchange, which led organization of the campaign.

The roster includes television star Fran Drescher of "The Nanny," actor Kal Penn of the "Harold and Kumar" movie series and former Women's National Basketball Association most valuable player Lisa Leslie, according to the campaign's organizers, who declined to provide a full list before it gets under way. Penn previously worked as an associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Levine posted his first Twitter message for the campaign earlier this month to his 4.7 million followers: "California is where I call home. Now you can GetCovered if you're a resident. So hurry!" Four hours later, it had been re-tweeted 680 times.

Along with daily messages from celebrities, the "Tell a Friend -- Get Covered" campaign will include new Web videos and images each week, an eight-hour streamed live event in January and a Web page directing people to insurance exchanges and local enrollment assistance, Lee said.

One of the videos being released on the Internet is a rap on health care by Obama impersonator Iman Crosson, who performs under the name Alphacat, he said. Organizers also will promote Web sharing of short videos from people who secured health coverage through Obamacare.

Maker Studios, which claims to be the world's largest provider of online video for young adults, is producing Web videos for the campaign, said Brittany Geldmacher, a spokeswoman for the studio.

Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett hosted a White House meeting in July with entertainers and industry executives including web video producers such as Funny or Die's Mike Farah and YouTube Comedy's Daniel Kellison to coordinate efforts to promote Obamacare enrollment.

Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America, an independent advocacy group that has joined the campaign, said celebrity promotions will primarily function as "a first step to raise awareness."

"We don't think that, by seeing a tweet, suddenly millions of people will go get coverage," said Filipic, a former Obama White House aide. "Adam Levine's tweet helps us begin, and then we can have a substantive conversation about what's available."

Lee said the social media campaign's primary targets will be young people, Latinos and mothers, including mothers of adult children.

The White House is concentrating on enrolling younger, healthy people to assure the insurance pools aren't skewed to chronically ill people. Large numbers of Latinos currently lack health insurance coverage. Research commissioned by supporters of the health care law suggests that mothers are especially influential in young adults' health care decisions.

Through November, 365,000 people signed up for private insurance using federal and state exchanges created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, according to a government report this week. Forecasts included in a September internal Obama administration memo later released by congressional Republicans projected 1.2 million sign-ups by the end of November.

Celebrities including pop singer Lady Gaga and rapper Pharrell Williams promoted healthcare.gov in the days after enrollment began, only to pull back as the website's flaws surfaced.

In addition to the state exchanges and Enroll America, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency administering the federal website, is involved in the campaign.