Obamacare: Because Mom said so

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Advocacy groups from “Moms Rising” to AARP are working to reach the healthy, young adults who don’t think they need insurance — and their mothers who think they do. The groups plan to use everything from paid advertising — to guilt.

“We’re going for the heartstrings,” said Nicole Duritz, vice president of health and family education and outreach at AARP, which will be stepping up messaging later this summer as the Oct. 1 sign-up date nears.

(Also on POLITICO: McConnell to sports: Stay away from ACA)

Getting a critical mass of younger and healthier people to sign up along with older and sicker ones is critical to making the insurance markets work. The White House wants 7 million people enrolled in the exchanges by March, 2.7 million of them young adults.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters the messaging will include “creative ways” to reach out to young, healthy people who “may not get up every morning thinking about health insurance.”

“We know that for instance — and I take this very personally — that moms can be influential with that demographic group,” added Sebelius, who has two young adult sons of her own.

(QUIZ: Do you know Kathleen Sebelius?)

Breaking through isn’t easy. Younger adults have a high rate of uninsurance, and some research shows they are less likely to sign up for coverage than older adults, even when it’s subsidized by their job. They may not want to pony up for insurance when they’re paying off college loans, saving for a car, setting up their first home — particularly if they don’t expect to need coverage. Since the law was passed, people can stay on their parents’ health plan until age 26. But the advocates want them to age into another form of insurance, not into being uncovered.

Everyone working on the mom angle rushes to say that they are reaching out to dads, too. But they cite evidence that mothers are the primary health care decision makers and medical appointment-makers in the family, from the Band-Aid on the first scraped knee right up through those early years of not-quite all grown up.

“Our research shows the No. 1 most-effective messenger is their mother,” said Anne Filipic, a former Obama aide who is now president of Enroll America, a coalition working on public education and sign-up for the law. The group will reach out to moms in its campaign this summer and fall that includes volunteers going door-to-door in targeted communities.

(Also on POLITICO: How much will Obamacare cost?)

Other advocates pitching in on the enrollment drive, including Moms Rising, plan to use some paid media and lots of parent-focused blogging and social media. They also plan on injecting some insurance information into the mother-to-mother grapevine.

Young adults are also a prime focus of the anti-Obamacare messaging. The law’s opponents are emphasizing its high costs, “premium shock” and government-mandated health benefits that may be more than some people, particularly in this age bracket, want or need.

“When young people are struggling with a stagnant economy and finding it difficult to get an initial step on the career ladder, it’s asking a lot — even coming from a mother — to have a child pay $200, $300, even $500, for health insurance,” said Chris Jacobs, a health policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation. The penalty for going without, he noted, is just $95 in the first year.

Jacobs said parents should be more concerned that Obamacare hampers job creation for the younger generation.

Getting young adults to take a second look at insurance — which will be heavily subsidized — is among the top communication challenges for those who support the law. Talking to women with families fits logically into what the advocates hope will be a shift from fighting about the politics of Obamacare to looking at its concrete consumer benefits, Filipic said.
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Both the administration and state governments have reached out to professional sports leagues, which could help mobilize the young adult age bracket, especially the males. It’s not yet clear that the leagues will want to cozy up to anything as politicized as the president’s health law.

Pro sports could send a message about youth, strength, vigor and health — but athletes don’t have the same up-close-and-personal touch as parents.

President Barack Obama himself has hit the mom theme, using Mother’s Day to give one of his rare speeches focused on his health law. “Moms take care of us,” he said at the time. “Sick kids, aging parents, grumpy husbands.”

“It’s talking about the benefits, the protections,” said the AARP’s Duritz. A 26-year-old might not worry too much about being in a bike crash or getting appendicitis and being uninsured. But it might keep his mother up at night.

Moms Rising, which taps into social media and blogging with its health and wellness and health reform advocacy, is creating “Wellness Wonder Teams.” Women who sign up pledge to tell at least 10 other people about the law — and get a refrigerator magnet that says “Changing More Than Diapers.”

Moms Rising President Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner says the volunteers get a packet with information; resources; links; and ideas for Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest posts. The kit’s designed to be digestible and mom-friendly so that the women go out and say, “Hey, there are new insurance options for us and our families,” not, “Hey, we’re getting a death panel.”

She says the organization, which also advocated passage of the law a few years ago, is still testing possible messages to learn, for instance, whether a photo of a cracked-up motorcycle is a motivator or too scary.

Sebelius said that when she talked to some folks at the NFL, she found that even players needed a nudge to take up the league’s generous insurance coverage.

Who convinced them? Mom.

“The most influential person is the mother of the player who can often get the player to do things that a wife, a spouse, a girlfriend or the player himself doesn’t do,” she said. “It kind of confirmed my basic bias that moms still have a lot of influence, and we’re going to be trying to touch them up close and personal.”

Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.

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