February 25, 2014, 06:00 am
ObamaCare stars fade
By Jonathan Easley and Elise Viebeck
The Obama administration is short of star power as it begins its last public relations blitz for ObamaCare.
President Obama’s celebrity supporters are not in the forefront as they were during the star-studded campaign-style videos that hogged the airwaves in 2008.
Contrary to expectations, the White House’s A-list backers have mainly stuck to Twitter to voice support for ObamaCare, while others have appeared in inexpensive online videos, or chosen to promote California’s insurance marketplace instead of HealthCare.gov, the notoriously troubled website for the federal exchanges.
It seems that not even the president’s most fervent and committed supporters want to get too close to ObamaCare. Some of Obama’s most powerful allies — figures including Oprah Winfrey, Bruce Springsteen and Beyoncé — have stayed in the wings for the enrollment push.
Less than a year ago, Jennifer Hudson, Amy Poehler, and representatives for Winfrey and Alicia Keys were guests at the White House to discuss a strategy to promote the healthcare law.
Many expected this would lead to an advertising blitz full of famous faces. But, with limited exceptions, stars have largely failed to participate in a substantial ad campaign to promote Obama-Care’s new coverage options.
To date, the only noteworthy celebrities appearing on behalf of ObamaCare in national ads are retired NBA players Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, who left professional basketball in 1991 and 2009, respectively.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sought to leverage the National Football League’s massive outreach, but that effort was scuttled by Republicans, who pressured the league to stay out of it.
Last fall, the administration promised to backload its advertisements to coincide with the wave of sign-ups expected in February and March. Instead, the administration is relying on social media to get the message out.
The White House told The Hill on Monday its intention was to enlist celebrities for a landmark social media campaign, and in this sphere at least, celebrities have eagerly shown their support for the law.
People magazine’s 2013 Sexiest Man Alive Adam Levine, artists ranging from Lady Gaga and John Legend to Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and dozens of other celebrities have encouraged followers on Twitter and Instagram to #GetCovered or send an #ACAvalentine.
Others, like Hudson, have cut sketches for websites including Funny or Die, and in the case of Scarlett Johansson, submitted pro-ObamaCare messages through groups such as Planned Parenthood.
An administration official told The Hill that social media is one of the best ways to reach young people directly, and to expect those efforts to continue. The official noted that tens of thousands of people tweeted using the hash-tag “GetCovered” over Valentine’s Day weekend.
Still, a Twitter campaign lacks the financial backing and gravitas of a commercial that airs during the Olympics, and the administration was only able to net Johnson and Mourning for those.
Without the overarching celebrity component, White House officials are stepping in to be the face of the enrollment push.
First lady Michelle Obama took the ObamaCare message on youth enrollment to “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” last week, and Vice President Biden will make appearances on “The Late Show” and “The View” this week.
The president and first lady have also been blanketing radio airwaves for interviews in markets with high-levels of uninsured people.
The administration will be focusing on a more community-based, micro-targeted approach to informing people about the healthcare law in the final weeks before March 31.
On Friday, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said the administration is embarking on a “final coordinated push” to enroll African Americans in ObamaCare. The administration said youth organizers and stakeholders would be launching enrollment events targeting black youths in the coming weeks.
And on Monday, the administration launched a Latino Enrollment Week of Action aimed at educating Hispanics about the merits of getting coverage. The federal government is partnering with local leaders and activist groups for summits in Dallas, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Chicago and Philadelphia to get the word out.
Administration officials like Jarrett will also continue to have a significant media presence in those areas through radio interviews and Google Hangouts.
Federal health officials face a tough task in reaching their goal of 7 million sign-ups by March 31. Biden recently sought to lower expectations about how many people might enroll by the end of March, predicting it would likely be in the 5 to 6 million range.
Through January, only 3.3 million had signed up, about one million fewer than was initially forecast. Still, enrollment has been trending in the right direction since the website started to work properly in December.