HHS plans ObamaCare ad blitz during Olympics

The Department of Health and Human Services will run ObamaCare ads during the Winter Olympics, targeting the young and healthy in parts of the country where there are large numbers of uninsured people.

“We are ramping up education and outreach efforts to drive enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace as part of a sustained, aggressive campaign for the duration of open enrollment,” HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters told The Hill in an email.

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HHS would not provide the size of the ad buys and didn’t say what markets the ads would run in. So far in 2014, the administration has held press events in Texas, Georgia and Florida to highlight what it says are the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.

The ad buys will cover all media formats to take advantage of NBC’s expected ratings windfall during the Sochi, Russia, games from Feb. 7 to Feb. 23.

“HHS is using a mix of grassroots activities and stakeholder engagement to raise awareness, as well as targeted television, radio, and digital advertising with an emphasis on reaching young and healthy audiences in particular,” Peters said.

HHS and the insurance industry had planned public relations campaigns for the beginning of open enrollment in October but delayed them because of the malfunctioning federal website, HealthCare.gov.

The administration is well behind its enrollment targets.

About 2.1 million people selected plans through the exchanges in the first three months of open enrollment, behind the administration’s stated goal of 3 million.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated 7 million would have enrolled by March 31, leaving HHS less than three months for a final 2014 push.

In addition to the raw enrollment numbers, the exchanges need young and healthy consumers to enroll for a balanced risk pool that keeps premiums from spiking next year.

Experts have predicted that those “young invincibles” will likely wait until the end of the second enrollment period to buy into the markets, making the Sochi Olympics a critical time for an enrollment push.