For the Obama administration, March Madness is another chance to press young people â€” particularly young men â€” to sign up for health care.
Health care officials are launching a new marketing campaign wrapped around the NCAA men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments that start this week.
Starting Monday, Obama, some of his aides and celebrity athletes who back the health care plan will conduct interviews, make public service ads and use social media appeals as a key deadline looms on March 31.
Citing the popularity of college basketball during the tournament season known as March Madness, White House senior communications adviser Tara McGuinness said, “We’re putting on a full-court press to remind our fellow fans that there are two weeks left to sign up for quality, affordable health insurance.”
On Monday, Obama â€” who is planning to release his annual NCAA tournament picks this week â€” will be interviewed by the Univision Radio program Locura Deportiva (“Sports Madness”). That session tips off a string of interviews with administration officials seeking to sell the health care plan.
ESPN Deportes, which has a largely Hispanic audience, will interview White House chief of staff Denis McDonough on Monday. ESPN Deportes will also air public service announcements featuring Labor Secretary Tom Perez.
The financing of Obama’s plan requires younger, healthier people to offset the costs of older, less healthy people. Many members of this key cohort â€” often called “the young invincibles” â€” don’t buy health insurance because they don’t think they will ever need it.
The Obama administration has tried to reach these young people through new media, including a comic parody interview with Obama last week by comedian Zach Galifianakis, host of the Internet show Between Two Ferns on the website “Funny or Die.”
Another online video campaign features the mothers of celebrities urging young people to sign up.
The college basketball tournament push includes ads and social media appearances featuring well-known basketball players and coaches.
The NCAA sets the schedules â€” “the brackets” â€” for the opening rounds of the men’s tournament on Sunday night. The women’s tournament will be set Monday.
March 31 is the deadline for enrollment in health care plans set up under the law that took effect last year. So far, signup numbers are below administration projections, though Obama said during an interview with WebMD that the numbers are sufficient to sustain the program.
Republicans say the health care plan is not working, and plan to use the issue against Democratic candidates in this year’s congressional election. They cite problems ranging from low signup numbers to threats of canceled policies to HealthCare.gov website problems.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, trumpeting a GOP win in a Florida special election last week, told CNN’s State of the Union that “Obamacare is complete poison out there in the field.”
Seeking to sell its health care plan through college basketball, the Obama administration will release a “16 Sweetest Reasons to Get Covered” bracket on Monday, listing its top reasons to sign up. The bracket will be included in a video featuring college basketball coaches, and will be featured on the White House website.
Starting next week, the Obama team will have a new health care ad featuring basketball superstar LeBron James running on ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBAtv. The James ad joins 30- second spots featuring retired basketball greats Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning.
On the Internet, officials with Healthcare.gov and the Department of Health and Human Services will join online discussions about the basketball tournaments. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Kansas Jayhawks fan, will be tweeting throughout the tournament.
Throughout March Madness, a variety of administration officials â€” including McDonough, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and health care adviser Phil Schiliro â€” will sit for interviews on sports talk radio stations across the country, another tactic the administration has used in recent weeks.
Past targets have included media markets in Atlanta, Austin, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Miami, Nashville, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Tampa.
Administration supporters will also hit the airwaves during the health care push. On Monday, Dan Rooney, chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, will be interviewed on a Steel City radio station.
On Thursday â€” the start of the Round of 64 in the men’s tournament â€” athletes who have helped the administration promote its health care plan in the past will participate in what the White House calls a “social media day of action,” seeking to drive traffic to websites that are linked to HealthCare.gov. Participants include basketball’s Kobe Bryant and football’s Victor Cruz
McGuinness said that athletes and coaches can be effective spokespeople because they “know better than anyone that none of us are invincible â€” you never know when you might need to have health insurance if you get hurt unexpectedly, whether on or off the court.”