White House Enlists ‘Magic’ to Sell Under-30 Crowd on Obamacare

Jan 16, 2014 12:40pm

Get ready for a trip down basketball memory lane when you tune into NBA games, but whether it’s enough to persuade you to sign up for Obamacare remains to be seen.

In its latest quest to get people younger than 30 to enroll under the president’s health care law, the Obama administration is out with a new ad campaign. But instead of enlisting contemporary basketball rock stars like LeBron James or Kevin Durant to help, the White House turned to two former NBA titans – Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Alonzo Mourning – to make the sell on health care.

Johnson, a former L.A. Lakers All-Star who famously retired from the game after being diagnosed with HIV, and Mourning, a seven-time All-Star who took a break from basketball because of a rare kidney disease, are starring in a new national television ad campaign to urge young people to sign up for health care. Mourning played most of his career for the Miami Heat.

“The good news is, now you can finally get the health insurance you need,” Johnson, 54, says in an ad, which will start airing tonight. “You can just go online to the new Health Insurance Marketplace. You can do side by side comparisons of brand-name plans, and choose the one that’s right for you.

“Find out how you can get lower monthly payments as part of the health care law. It might sound like ‘magic’ – but take my word for it -  it’s real. Protect your health. Enroll today.

Mourning, 43, says in an ad, “I was at the top of my game. I felt invincible, but when I went for my regular team physical, it turned out I had serious kidney disease. It was caught in time to treat and, lucky for me, I was insured.

“That’s why it’s so important that now, you can get affordable, quality health coverage through the new Health Insurance Marketplace. Where you can compare brand-name plans, and even get lower monthly payments, as part of the health care law. Enroll today, so you can stay in the game.”

Not only are Johnson and Mourning not on the basketball court anymore, but Johnson started and ended his career at a time when some of the target demographic wasn’t even born. But the White House hopes each legend’s personal experiences with strong health care plans as they battled unexpected serious health concerns will resonate with the “young invincibles” who have yet to sign up for health care.

“We know the young and healthy audience responds well to sports figures, and these 30-second ads feature two NBA legends that each have a compelling health story,” spokeswoman Julie Bataille of the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services said.

It was unclear whether the administration reached out to any current NBA players to participate in the ad campaign.

The ads, which will run through the end of the enrollment period of March 31, will air nationally during NBA games on ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBAtv, as well as in local markets with high concentrations of uninsured individuals, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official said.

The ads are part of a $52 million broadcast campaign for the first quarter of 2014, which includes an ad blitz geared toward young adults on NBC during the Olympics.

The Obama administration announced earlier this week  that nearly a quarter of the 2.2 million people who signed up under Obamacare since October were between the ages of 18 to 34, a disappointingly low figure for a demographic that is considered pivotal to the success of President Obama’s signature health care plan.

ABC News’ Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.

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