By Justin Sink - 03/30/14 06:29 PM EDT
The federal health insurance marketplace saw record volume for a Saturday, and operators at the federal call centers struggled to keep up with the volume of calls, as consumers flooded the ObamaCare exchanges ahead of Monday’s enrollment deadline.
According to the Obama administration, HealthCare.gov saw 2 million visits this weekend, while the call centers received 380,000 phone calls. On Sunday, the insurance marketplace tweeted a warning to consumers that, because of a crush of calls, those interested in coverage could leave their information, and an employee would contact them later.
High call center volume right now. System will now allow consumers to leave their info to be contacted later when we can serve them.— HealthCare.gov (@HealthCareGov) March 30, 2014
"There were more calls to the call centers this week than during the entire month of February," a White House official said.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz tweeted that they were seeing enrollment surges in cities like Tampa, Fla.; Las Vegas, Houston and El Paso, Texas. On Saturday, other administration officials tweeted photographs of long lines forming at enrollment events around the country.
The White House credits a “full-court press” by senior administration officials in the final weeks of the open-enrollment period with sparking the booming interest.
“The administration’s mantra for outreach has been ,'reach them where they are.' This focus has driven a relentless pursuit of media and outreach to the young and uninsured with geographic targeting in states like Texas, Florida, and a list of 25 cities that are home to millions of uninsured Americans,” a White House official said. “All of their outreach activities were organized to target key demographic groups, including young adults, their moms, Latinos and African-Americans, in the geographic areas with the highest rates of uninsured consumers.”
According to the White House, officials and celebrity surrogates over the past six weeks have completed more than 300 individual radio interviews across the nation. That includes 20 radio interviews by the president, first lady and vice president. Chief of staff Dennis McDonough and senior advisers Dan Pfeiffer and Phil Schiliro participated in an additional 30 interviews. Cabinet secretaries have also completed some 60 radio interviews nationwide.
Valerie Jarrett alone has also completed 60 radio interviews and appeared on TV and Internet shows to promote the initiative. In an interview with Popsugar posted Friday, Jarrett pitched the law and fielded questions on One Direction and Snooki.
That effort has been magnified by the administration’s use of celebrities to get the word out about the ObamaCare deadline. According to the White House, celebrity “influencers” have posted messages about the law to more than 349,481,000 followers and have seen their messages retweeted more than 40,000 times.
Top ObamaCare tweeters include musicians Adam Levine (4.7 million followers), Alicia Keys (18 million followers), Katy Perry (50 million followers) and Jennifer Lopez (27 million followers). Basketball stars like LeBron James (12 million followers) and Shaquille O’Neal (8 million followers) also tweeted information, while Kobe Bryant and Grant Hill were among the group of celebrities who sat for interviews reaching 400 radio stations nationwide.
“A key part of the administration’s strategy has been to work with celebrities, athletes and other key influencers who were interested in helping us get the message out about the importance of getting health insurance, and had an enormous power to reach consumers outside of the Beltway — especially young people — through their social media platforms,” the White House official said.
The White House is hoping that strong turnout in the final days of the enrollment period can help, after technical problems plagued the early months of the ObamaCare website.
The Congressional Budget Office and administration officials originally projected that 7 million people would sign up for coverage in the first open enrollment period. The nonpartisan agency later revised that prediction down to 6 million, following early technical problems with the ObamaCare website.
On Thursday, President Obama announced that the administration hit the 6 million enrollment target, although the White House has not said how many of those people actually paid their first month’s premium to obtain coverage. The administration has also not released data about how many of those 6 million previously had private health coverage.
The enrollment effort has also been boosted by the support of viral Web videos involving celebrities pitching the law. The president’s interview with comedian Zach Galifianakis has garnered 23 million views, while a video from YouTube celebrity Vsauce promoting the law is nearing 2 million hits.
Cumulatively, videos created in coordination with the White House have received more than 33 million views and featured celebrities including Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Eva Longoria, Olivia Wilde, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Scott, Elizabeth Banks and Eddie George.
So far, the White House is mum about how President Obama might promote the law on the final day of open enrollment.
“I don’t have anything that the president is going to do,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Friday. “There’s an all-out push. It’s going to continue right up to the end, in terms of reaching audiences out there, including young adults. And making sure that people have the information they need about the fact that the deadline is real and that, if they don’t enroll now, they’re out of luck until November.”
But there will likely be some sort of appearance from Obama, who returned to Washington on Saturday after a weeklong trip to Europe and the Middle East.
On the Sunday talk shows, Republicans were generally dismissive of the White House effort, accusing the administration of inflating enrollment numbers.
“I think they’re cooking the books on this,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) on Fox News.
“I don’t think it means anything,” he added.
The lawmaker said he wanted to know more information about the individuals purchasing insurance.
"What kind of insurance will those people actually have?" the senator asked. "Will they be able to keep the doctor that they want? How much more is it going to cost them? We know that some of the best cancer hospitals in the country want very little to do with people that actually buy this insurance on the ObamaCare exchanges."
And Republicans pointed to polling that showed the law remained unpopular. A Fox News poll released on Thursday showed 4-in-10 voters support the law, while 56 percent oppose it.
“I’m happy to have a referendum on ObamaCare,” Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol told ABC News’s “This Week.”
Former Obama adviser David Plouffe admitted on the same program that “the politics of this are tough,” although he predicted things would improve for Democrats.
“They will always be tough. I think they'll get better over time. This law is working. And I think the Republican playbook of just repeal ObamaCare, repeal ObamaCare, repeal ObamaCare gets tougher as more and more people get healthcare. I think smart Republicans understand that,” he said.
— This report was first published at 2:42 p.m. and last updated at 6:29 p.m.