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Selling Obamacare: Millennials get pitch on Twitch for health insurance sign-ups

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It's game-on in a new effort to get millennials to buy into Obamacare — and strengthen the financial performance of health insurance plans.

Federal officials on Tuesday revealed a strategy that relies on popular social media platforms and college campuses to encourage young adults to sign up for health coverage during the upcoming open enrollment season.

Young adults — who are more likely than any other age group to not have health insurance — will get pitched that message on the popular Twitch platform as well as on other social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Officials noted that Twitch, a social video platform and gaming community, draws almost 10 million active daily users, and that its core users are people between the ages of 18 and 34.

They said Twitch users, who on average spend more than 100 minutes daily on the platform, will see videos featuring the federal Obamacare marketplaces HealthCare.gov, a "homepage takeover" and streamers that will "amplify our message" throughout the open enrollment season that starts Nov. 1 and runs though the end of January. People who don't sign up for health coverage during that period run the risk of being hit with an Obamacare fine.

In addition to the pitches on Twitch, officials said that they were organizing a social media outreach campaign around the theme "#HealthyAdulting," that will be deployed across digital platforms.

Partners in the campaign, who include major groups of doctors and hospitals, health advocacy groups and the United Methodist Church, together have nearly 5 million social media followers.

Officials also announced the launch of the White House Healthy Campus Challenge, which seeks "to engage college and university campuses in enrollment efforts nationwide," said White House chief of staff Denis McDonough in a blog post.

That campaign will ask college administrators, students, faculty and others connected with the schools "to reach the uninsured both on campus and in the surrounding community."

"While we will work with all types of colleges and universities, we will focus our attention on community colleges, since community college students may not be able to get covered through their college or may not have access to coverage through parents' plan," McDonough wrote.

Young adults continue to have the highest rates of uninsurance, despite having seen the biggest gains in coverage rates under the Affordable Care Act.

That fact is worrisome to Obamacare advocates, as well as to insurers, since the premiums paid by healthier young adults enrolled in individual market health plans can offset the benefit costs incurred from covering older, less healthy customers.

A number of Obamacare insurers this year have cited an imbalanced risk pool — one in which they pay out more money in benefits than they take in from premiums — as a reason they need double-digit premium hikes, or why they are exiting Obamacare marketplaces.

Kevin Counihan, CEO of the federal Obamacare exchange HealthCare.gov, said that more than 9 out of every 10 young adults who is eligible to enroll in an Obamacare plan have low or moderate incomes that would qualify them for federal tax credits that would reduce what they pay in monthly premiums.

"But that fact hasn't fully permeated the millennial community, and we want to change that," said Counihan, whose marketplace sells health plans in 38 states.

"This year, we'll be using new tactics and strategies to reach young adults where they are and deliver the message that they have affordable coverage options. These new tactics will both benefit young Americans and strengthen the marketplace risk pool."

Counihan and other officials this past summer said they would be focusing on boosting millennial sign-ups in the upcoming open enrollment season.

The IRS previously announced that it will conduct outreach about enrollment for the first time to uninsured adults who paid the Obamacare penalty for not having health coverage, or who claimed an exemption from that fine. Around 45 percent of tax filers who paid a penalty or who claimed an exemption are under age 35.