My view: How not to market Obamacare to millennials

By Evan Feinberg

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, March 26 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

The White House is desperate to sign up Utah’s millennials with the Affordable Care Act’s health care exchanges (Obamacare). ... The latest figures show that only 31 percent of the state’s Obamacare sign-ups are between ages 18 and 34.

Jessica Hill, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

The White House is desperate to sign up Utah’s millennials with the Affordable Care Act’s health care exchanges (Obamacare). With the March 31 enrollment deadline closing fast, the latest figures show that only 31 percent of the state’s Obamacare sign-ups are between ages 18 and 34. That’s a far cry from the 40 percent that the White House wants.

Blame the Obamacare marketing team. Since the exchanges launched last October, their attempts to convince millennials to sign up have been inappropriate, incoherent and simply insulting.

The list of examples is long and painful, but the “Brosurance” ads — which have gone viral across the country — are the most famous flop by far. In print and social media, these ads paint the picture of millennials as drunks and dolts.

One ad shows three young men doing a keg stand. Its tagline: “Don’t tap into your beer money to cover those medical bills.” Another tries to link flu shots to liquor shots.

Needless to say, these and others insulted more millennials than they convinced. They ultimately reached a huge portion of the youth market, but only because the outrage was so intense that the ads were lampooned on national television. When Comedy Central showed the ads to a group of twenty-somethings, every last one expressed disgust and disappointment.

Those same millennials were likely left scratching their heads at some of the White House’s other marketing ploys.

Take the recent Magic Johnson ad, for instance. It was clearly made by someone who doesn’t understand anyone under 30. Most millennials don’t even know who Magic Johnson is. He retired in 1991. Most of today’s college students were born after that — meaning they couldn’t tell you if he played baseball, basketball, or maybe cricket.

Other ads have drawn scorn and ridicule. The “pajama boy” social media campaign led to scathing responses from the media for making millennials look self-absorbed and annoying. The “Mom jean” campaign tried — and failed — to link health coverage with awkward-fitting pants. The case for health care had never been less clear.

One of the administration’s allies, Get Covered America, took the confusion a step further. It created a two-minute original song featuring singing cats, dogs and birds. Intended to spark a nationwide increase in enrollments, the ad was greeted by silence, only receiving 60,000 views on YouTube.

Given such pitiful attempts at reaching the young and the healthy, it’s no surprise that millennials haven’t responded by signing up for Obamacare in droves. In reality, it’s too expensive for too many millennials — and none of the marketing campaigns has been slick enough to bury this fact.

The ACA leaves the average 27-year-old in Utah facing a 55 percent premium increase for insurance plans on the exchange, according to Forbes. Even after subsidies, that’s an expense that many millennials can’t afford.

Perversely, such high costs make it even harder for millennials to purchase health insurance in the future, when they could afford it. By not signing up for expensive plans now, insurance rates will increase as soon as next year — for everyone. That leaves millennials with two choices: Buy an unaffordable plan now, or wait and buy an unaffordable plan later.

The only remaining option is to opt out of Obamacare entirely. If the latest numbers are any indication, that’s exactly what millennials in Utah are doing. Millennials know a bad deal when they see one — and we’re not as dumb as Obamacare’s marketers seem to think.

Evan Feinberg is president of Generation Opportunity, a group that seeks to engage the millennial generation to advocate for free market principles.

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