Convincing the Young Invincibles

Photograph by Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo

Alicia Menendez, center foreground, host of the “Alicia Menendez Tonight” show on Fusion, an English-language television network targeting millennial Hispanics, holds up a “selfie” with her production team.

What do Lady Gaga and Barack Obama have in common this week? They both wish they were Beyonce.

With no warning and no promotion, Beyonce’s self-titled album released Dec. 13 sold a record 829,000 copies on iTunes in its first three days — 617,000 sales in the U.S. alone, Apple announced Monday. That’s more than twice the number of Americans who enrolled in Obamacare during the entire month of November — about 250,000.

Normally, comparing a $15.99 Beyonce album to health insurance makes less sense than comparing apples and oranges. Yet the target demographic is largely the same for both. The White House and its allies need to persuade Beyonce fans young adults to buy health insurance: Obamacare is likely doomed unless 2.7 million healthy 18- to 34-year-olds enroll in exchanges.

Obama’s trouble is that he’s lost some of his superpower of communicating well with young people. Only about 40 percent of Americans age 18 to 29 approve of Obamacare, according to a Harvard University poll published Dec. 4. Half of those polled expect the law to increase their health-care costs and about 40 percent predict the quality of their care will decrease. Only about 20 percent of uninsured respondents to the Harvard poll said they would enroll if and when they are eligible.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll of uninsured 19- to 34-year-olds in California last month was more positive, with 51 percent of respondents saying they had a favorable view of Obamacare. Yet 69 percent of respondents said they didn’t have enough information about the law to understand how it would affect them.

Early enrollment numbers available from state exchanges may give Obama hope: Young and healthy people are represented in enrollment at about the same percentage as in the broader population. In California, about 22 percent (16,942 people) of enrollees in November were under 35, according to the exchange. Still, with no age breakdown of federal enrollments available and the Obama administration aiming for almost 40 percent of all enrollees to be millennials, it’s far too soon to rest on laurels.

So, Queen Bey, what can Obama do to woo the young invincible?

Most respondents to the Harvard poll said they’re learning about the health law primarily from the news media: about 70 percent said the news was their top info source — more than friends, social media, employers and the infamous The media’s influence was even higher among just those respondents who said they were unlikely to enroll, with around 80 percent saying news was their main source.

Anyone reading the news these days knows the biggest Obamacare story has been the trials and tribulations of, which has only recently found its footing. But the major generation-specific headline is one already mentioned: Obamacare is doomed unless 2.7 million healthy 18- to 34-year-olds enroll in exchanges.

“Of the 7 million people that the Obama administration expects to enroll in health coverage in 2014, officials think they need 2.7 million to be young adults, in order to prevent premiums from spiking for everyone else,” the Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff wrote in a blog post titled “What bros need to know about Obamacare.” Low enrollment for young people is “a problem that could undermine the rollout of the law even more than the glitch-ridden website,” according to Fox News. “Without young adults, who pay for insurance yet rarely use it, premium costs in the exchanges may soar,” Bloomberg News reported.

What millennials are hearing: The government is using you to help pay old people’s bills. Lol, xo.

John Della Volpe, polling director for Harvard’s Institute of Politics, said in an interview that the administration now needs “to make a clear, concise, compelling message about the benefits for [young adults] directly, rather than the benefits for the nation as a whole.”

Young people know why buying a Beyonce album is good for them.

After news media, friends and social media were the next most-cited sources of health insurance information in the Harvard poll, with about 40 percent of respondents identifying them as sources. They’re the areas where health-law advocates are focusing their efforts, in hopes of better informing millennials and tipping the messaging scales.

Obama seems to get it.

“For your friends and your family, the most important source of information is not going to be me, it’s gonna be you,” he told 160 young people at the White House Youth Summit on Dec. 4, while standing in front of a banner that read #WHYouthSummit. Signs with #GetCovered were also on display.

Obamacare advocates also launched the Tell a Friend – Get Covered campaign last week, which aims to generate 100 million Internet contacts before open enrollment closes March 31. Bringing back a tactic Obama used in his 2012 campaign, organizers plan to leverage star power and web videos to encourage Americans to talk to their friends about Obamacare, Mike Dorning reported.

The best example of social media’s potential in this effort came last month from Colorado, where two local groups created the so-called “brosurance” and “hosurance” ads that showed young people doing keg stands and posing with Ryan Gosling cutouts to advertise the benefits of health insurance. The ads went viral, in part due to the pushback they generated, and had garnered over 16 million web hits just after the release of the second set of ad, according to Adam Fox, director of strategic engagement for Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, one of the groups responsible for the ads.

“We focused the campaign on social media because we felt that was a channel that hadn’t really been saturated, and is also a primary communication tool to young adults,” Fox said.

While Fox deemed the campaign a success — it now has over 22 million web hits — he said internal metrics can’t tell organizers enough about their end-game.

“It’s really hard to know what the net impact is on enrollment,” Fox said about the web campaign.

Young Invincibles, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, partnered with the government on another prominent web campaign, a video contest intended to spread the word about Obamacare’s benefits for young people. The contest’s videos received more than 30,000 votes and hundreds of thousands of views — as well as much mocking from conservative blogs after the announcement of the winning video, titled “Forget About the Price Tag.”

Young Invincibles executive director Aaron Smith said he was encouraged by the contests’ numbers, and that the organization would continue digital outreach through social media and mobile apps.

“It’s great and that’s why we’re doing that stuff, but it’s not quite the same as talking with someone face to face,” he said, reprising what’s been Team Obama’s rule of thumb since the 2008 campaign: Grassroots count.

Young Invincibles is also working with over 1,000 local groups to promote the law through grassroots efforts. It’s focusing on visits to community colleges, where organizers answer questions, point out resources and help young people enroll, Smith said.

“I think there’s a value in awareness building, but I think people are hungry for the facts,” Smith said.

Della Volpe said Obama and his allies should focus on fact-sharing efforts in order to “empower their greatest advocates” and “get back to the fundamentals.”

“People in the latter half of their 20s can think carefully about an economics-based message about the role of insurance,” Della Volpe said. “They have thought carefully about economics, finances and debt for many years now.

Of course, lectures and speeches will only get you so far with the millennial crowd. If organizers hope to outweigh news reports with social media and word of mouth, they’d do well to keep the economics interesting.

At the Youth Summit, Obama suggested one innovative new tactic for spreading the word: “If you’re a bartender, have a happy hour.”

Happy hour hosts might want to turn up the Yonce, too.

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