With the official enrollment deadline for the Affordable Care Act approaching, the Obama Administration is trying every which way to get the message out. This effort ranges from ordinary TV ads, to quirkier celeb-filled spoofs, to testimonials from YouTube celebrities. Bob speaks to Joe Rospars, CEO and Co-Founder of Blue State Digital, who served as the principal digital strategist for both of Obama’s campaigns, about capturing the attention of the ever-elusive “young invincibles.”
BOB GARFIELD: With the more or less sort of absolute enrollment deadline set for Monday, the Obama Administration is trying every which way to get its message out about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. This ranges from ordinary TV ads, such as this endorsement from the NBA's biggest star.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
LeBron JAMES: Hi, I’m LeBron James. I know how important it is to take care of yourself, your friends and your family. That’s why I want to tell you about the health insurance marketplace at HealthCare.gov.
BOB GARFIELD: - to presidential calls on quirkier celebrities, like Zach Galifianakis of FunnyorDie.com’s Between Two Ferns.
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Oh, I don't have a phone. I'm off the grid. I don't want you people like looking at my text, if you know what I mean?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: First of all, Zach, nobody's interested in your texts but, second of all, you can do it in person. And the law means that insurers can’t discriminate against you if you’ve got a pre-existing condition anymore.
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Yeah but what about – what about this, though?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s disgusting. How, how long have you had it?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Oh, just four months.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Really?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Spider bites. I got attacked by spiders.
PRESIDENY OBAMA: Zach, you, you need to get that checked right away. You need to get on HealthCare.gov because that – that’s one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The final push is mainly in search of 18- to 34-year-olds known as “young invincibles” whose overall vitality is vital to the health of the insurance pool, but who not only tend to think they don't need health coverage but are also maddeningly hard to reach through the media. You can’t persuade a 20-year-old to sign up if you can't find him, and it's the males that are the hardest to find, which is why the White House released the President's annual NCAA’s Sweet 16 Tournament predictions with an Obamacare theme, “The 16 Sweetest Reasons to Get Covered.” And it's why one state insurance exchange, HealthSource RI (Rhode Island), distributed a Nag Toolkit, enabling parents to stalk their kids on social media and remind them to enroll.
BOB GARFIELD: With enrollment currently one million shy of the administration's original seven million subscriber goal, the White House Tuesday created a mechanism for prospective subscribers to have the deadline extended once again ‘til mid- April. Meanwhile, the White House continues its efforts to reach the unreachable, enlisting such self-produced YouTube personalities as Hannah “Harto” Hart, of, of course, the video log My Drunk Kitchen.
HANNAH HART: Oh also, if you want to show your body that you love yourself, go ahead and sign up for health insurance at HealthCare.gov. If you’re thinking, ooh, Hannah, I don’t want to sign up for health insurance, then let me ask you this: Are you 18 to 34, maybe self-employed, maybe a contractor, maybe somebody who is over-educated and has had a hard time finding work since that terrible financial crisis we went through, and maybe you have years and years and years of student debt. Well, despite all those things, you should still get health insurance because you don’t want to end up in even more debt from like, God forbid, Getting hit by a bus or something. [HORN TOOT]
BOB GARFIELD: Watching all of this play out with more than casual interest is Joe Rospars, CEO of Blue State Digital and previously the head of digital campaigning for President Obama’s two election victories. Joe, welcome to OTM.
JOE ROSPARS: Thanks for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: So the success of the Affordable Care Act, we have so often been told, hinges on signing up young Americans and I guess especially young men, the most elusive demographic for advertising targeting. Where does the administration go to find them?
JOE ROSPARS: Apparently, on Between Two Ferns -
- in Funny or Die, but lots of other places. And it’s not just the administration searching, it’s the healthcare insurers and providers, the various state exchanges and governments and HHS and various foundations and non-profits. So it’s a very interesting landscape right now.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, you are not just a casual observer to this because you had the same job in the two election campaigns. Where did you go looking to find this critical cohort?
JOE ROSPARS: The most interesting part about the campaign in 2012 was that we actually increased the youth turnout over 2008. For us, it was about having a single big organization of the people who were most enthusiastic to support us go out and reach their friends and neighbors and colleagues and fellow students. And so, we benefited from a single point of organization for all of that that was local in all of the communities but had a structure that was national. The diffuse nature of signing up for Obamacare is more difficult to control
BOB GARFIELD: And also, you had pretty close to a billion dollars [LAUGHS] to spend to go looking for these people. I’m going to assume that the Department of Health and Human Services and the insurance companies put together have but a fraction of that
JOE ROSPARS: Yeah, I think there was definitely a different type of organization to it and a different resource then.
BOB GARFIELD: I guess it’s easier to inspire people in change we can believe in than – in health insurance.
JOE ROSPARS: It’s also though a really much more concrete [LAUGHS] proposition than an election because a lot of people are disconnected from the political process and they can continue being disconnected from the political process without necessarily expecting that something in their life is gonna change as a consequence of that, whereas the health insurance promotion, I mean, there's - there's an actual tangible thing that you get.
And so, I think there is an opportunity to sort of wake people up and have them check in and realize that there's something in it for them in a way that the political process by itself doesn't necessarily.
BOB GARFIELD: As you look at what the administration has done so far, are there any gimmicks that you've gone, wow, that is really, really smart?
JOE ROSPARS: I thought the “Between Two Ferns” thing was great, and I thought having YouTube stars who come in to the White House was great. It's been interesting to see the, the blend of online and offline because, in the end, this process, whether it's waking someone up to the fact that this is all going on, reminding them that they intended to sign up before but haven’t gotten around to it, ultimately ends with a really concrete transaction. And so, to see the offline street teams out there with iPads and clipboards and for the online advertising to be pushing people both to a website but also to get volunteers to have conversations offline with their children or with their neighbors, it’s been a really nice jelling of that effort in a way that I haven't seen before.
BOB GARFIELD: And then the President goes on Ellen, you know, on the TV.
ELLEN DeGENERES: While I have you, I think it’s only fair we should talk about Obamacare, and that rhymed.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: If you don’t have health insurance right now, you should go on HealthCare.gov, and especially all the moms out there.
JOE ROSPARS: I think there is an effort to leave no stone unturned with this deadline coming up, and so whether it's targeting young men, you know, on ESPN as part of March Madness or having the non-profit groups reach out into specific communities, LGBT, youth, Latino, it’s about getting everybody sort of aware that this moment is happening. And, you know, what we know from voter registration campaigns and what we know from fundraising for political campaigns and non-profits, the deadline is something that really resonates with people.
BOB GARFIELD: If you keep moving the deadline, do you create a boy who cried ‘wolf’ kind of dynamic where people stop paying attention to the deadline altogether, believing that, yeah, they’ll extend it, I’ll – I’ll have more time?
JOE ROSPARS: It’s a pretty hard deadline. If you have a big life event, something happens, you can get enrolled after the deadline, but from a political or a non-profit fundraising perspective, you know, the biggest day for a lot of non-profits, they do 40 or 50% of their revenue on December 31st, when people are thinking about the tax deadline. And so, if you are a museum or something like that, signing up members on December 31st, if you could get an extra two days, you’d be pretty excited about that. So making people aware of that will net more people.
BOB GARFIELD: But the Affordable Health Care Act is still about two million Americans short of the target that the administration set itself. Short of the President showing up as a character in the next edition of World of Warcraft or something like that, is he ever really gonna to reach these young invincibles that he’s targeting?
JOE ROSPARS: I think Dance Dance Revolution is probably a more likely one.
But, you know, this is a long haul effort to get people signed up for health insurance. It’s not something that’s gonna happen over the course of a first six-month period. And so, the website will probably be working at the next open enrollment period. People are gonna learn about what were the most effective media buys, what were the most effective grassroots outreach tactics, who built the best models for finding people when they’re going and knocking on doors, and it’s gonna be a long process.
BOB GARFIELD: Joe, thank you very much.
JOE ROSPARS: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Joe Rospars who twice ran President Obama’s digital campaign efforts is CEO of Blue State Digital.