Obamacare blitz woos the young with star power
Jennifer Hudson was able to win an Oscar—but can she win over young adults for Obamacare?
Obamacare advocates on Thursday set off a social media blitz to push young adults to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, using celebrities, humorous skits and social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vine to spread the word.
A six-hour-long, live-streamed variety show event and blogathon at www.tellafriendgetcovered.com is the centerpiece of the youth-oriented campaign, which comes days after Obamacare enrollment data showed a big gap between the sign-up rate for young adults and the target set by federal officials.
"Using social media to reach younger people has always been part of the plan," said Peter Lee, head of the state of California's Obamacare exchange, Covered California, which is a main backer of the "Tell a Friend—Get Covered" event. "We've doubled down on this initiative."
(Read more: Wanted: Young Obamacare enrollees)
Getting young adults enrolled in Obamacare is particularly important because of the need to have enough healthy customers paying for insurance plans to balance out the cost of paying out benefits for sicker enrollees.
So far only about 24 percent of the 2.2 million Obamacare enrollees nationally are 18 to 34 years old, compared to the 40 percent officials are aiming for by the March 31 open enrollment deadline. Officials said they expect the enrollment rate to significantly improve by the deadline.
The hope is the amusing Obamacare-themed videos like the ones on FunnyOrDie.com, which are being used for the event, will be effective at getting younger adults to pay attention to an often confusing subject and to get them to share the media online with friends, Lee said.
One of those campy clips features Academy Award-winner Hudson spoofing the Olivia Pope fixer character from the hit ABC TV show "Scandal." During a covert meeting with two trench coat-clad men in a dark alley, the older man tells her, "This is my son. He's just out of college, and he doesn't have health insurance." Hudson solves their dilemma by telling them Obamacare lets people stay on their parents' insurance plans until age 26.
"Social media ... has an edge, and deals with things with humor," Lee said. "We aren't being flippant, but we are addressing this with humor, because we believe that encourages that friend-to-friend dialog."
"We think the fact of being insured is something that is worth being a new status on Facebook," he said.
The campaign isn't the only one seeking young adults as Obamacare customers.
The federal agency that runs HealthCare.gov, the ACA exchange serving 36 states, on Thursday launched a campaign featuring two separate ads by retired basketball superstars Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. The ads will air nationally on ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBAtv during NBA games as well as in local markets with large numbers of uninsured people.
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"We know the young and healthy audience responds well to sports figures, and these 30-second ads feature two NBA legends that each have a compelling health story," said Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Johnson stunned the world in 1991 when he disclosed he was HIV-positive, while Mourning helped the Miami Heat win the 2006 NBA championship after receiving a kidney transplant.
Washington state's Obamacare exchange on Wednesday announced a partnership with concert promoter Live Nation to do outreach efforts to young adults at concerts like that the Sasqautch! Music Festival there next month as well as online platforms including a Facebook sweepstakes, and through traditional media.
In its news release, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange noted that young adults "are a key audience" for that marketplace, and that "nearly half of the uninsured population in Washington state are young adults." It also noted that while about 75 percent of young adults nationally want health insurance, they often believe they can't afford it.
Obamacare proponents note that young adults, because they tend to make less money than older people, are more likely to qualify for government subsidies to help pay for ACA insurance.
"They are most apt to have subsidies, they are most apt to have big subsidies," said Lee of Covered California. "They could have a 'bronze' plan [the cheaper priced Obamacare plans] with virtually no premium."
—By CNBC's Dan Mangan. Follow him on Twitter