Stage set for weekend ObamaCare blitz


The Obama administration is running a full-court press to promote healthcare sign-ups before the Monday deadline for coverage to start the new year.

President Obama has made pitches on popular media ranging from ESPN to The Colbert Report this week, while Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell has crisscrossed the country with stops in Florida to Texas.


The last-ditch effort to reach millions of people who remain uninsured after ObamaCare’s first year will put a strong focus on black and Hispanic communities.

This weekend, Burwell will visit heavily Hispanic cities in Arizona and Florida and attend a Sunday service at a predominantly black Baptist church in Houston.

She has already held roundtables with black leaders in Washington, D.C., appeared on a popular Latina webcast and spoken at city hall in Newark, the state of New Jersey's largest and poorest city.

The government’s push will include a paid ad blitz in every state on cable networks including Comedy Central, MTV, Spike, USA and TNT.

To reach black communities, the government is paying for ads during NFL games on Fox, NBC, and ESPN, as well as on hip hop and rap stations on Pandora and Radio One.

It is also paying for ads on Spanish-speaking networks TeleMundo and Univision, including sports channels and during popular telenovelas.

A spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which oversees the implementation of ObamaCare, declined to say how much the ads will cost. Last year, CMS spent $52 million over four months to promote sign-ups.

This year’s open enrollment is already delivering good news for ObamaCare – and will likely push past its target of 9.1 million new sign-ups this year.

“Something very unexpected would have to happen to not meet the 9.1 million target,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

Still, Burwell and other health officials have warned that it will be tougher to find the pockets of people who remain uninsured after 10 million gained coverage last year.

The federal government is specifically targeting Texas and Florida, where nearly one-quarter of people remain uninsured – the highest percentages for any state. Nationally, 12.4 percent of Americans lack insurance. 

But outreach in those states has been largely a solo effort for the federal government and national groups like Enroll America.

Republican Govs. Rick Scott (Fla.) and Rick Perry (Texas) have done little to nothing to promote open enrollment.

Instead, Burwell has stood alongside local Democratic leaders, including the mayor of Dallas and Texas Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) and Joaquin Castro (D) to promote the federal exchange.

Enroll America, a nonprofit group that's raised $20 million to spend this year, has also concentrated most of their attention in Texas and Florida to help make up for the governors’ less-than-enthusiastic approach to ObamaCare.

“We do work with government entities there, but it’s mostly on the local level,” said Anne Filipic, the organization’s president.

The organization will hold 600 events in 11 states this weekend, in addition to making 75,000 phone calls and sending 1 million emails to remind people to sign up for coverage.

“Certainly, this is a big moment for us and we are ramping up to meet the need and to get the word out,” Filipic said in an interview Friday.

The administration’s other big challenge this fall is prodding people who already have coverage to shop around for plans to avoid spikes in premiums.

So far, only 14 percent of the 5 million people who enrolled in the federal exchange last year have browsed their options, according to data from Dec. 5.

If they don’t log in before Monday’s deadline, they will automatically continue in their existing plans, even if they could save money on another plan.

Levitt, a former health policy adviser to the White House and HHS, said the pace of sign-ups has been higher than he expected – particularly among people who already had coverage.

“I really expected people to largely just go on autopilot, so I was surprised that the active renewals were that high,” he said. “I think a big question is whether that continues after the first of the year.”