World & Nation

Celebrities and social media promote healthcare enrollment

Peter Lee, Covered California
Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, at the Los Angeles announcement of a campaign to urge young Americans to encourage friends to enroll in healthcare coverage. “Those under 30 live and breathe social media — they live Twitter, they live Facebook,” he says.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

It was just last week when officials at the state’s health insurance exchange, Covered California, gave the green light to Obama impersonator Iman Crosson to come up with a rap song to sell young people on the virtues of Obamacare. The turnaround was going to be quick.

The 31-year-old actor began scrolling for beats that might work with President Obama’s “flow, his cadence, his pauses,” Crosson said — traits he has perfected after performing as Obama for years. With some help from comedy writers, he began writing lyrics against the melody of a Snoop Dogg song; after two hours in the studio, Obama doppelganger “B-Rock O’Beezy” was born, jamming to what might be the first rap song about preexisting conditions.

The video released Thursday was the first of many in a multiphase social media campaign that will be financed by Covered California, other state partners like Kentucky and Connecticut, and the Obama-allied group Enroll America. With the launch, fueled by tweets from celebrities like pop singer Adam Levine and actor Wilmer Valderrama, officials hope to capture the attention of young adults and entice them to sign up for insurance in their states under the president’s healthcare law.

The campaign, a corollary to White House efforts to work with Hollywood, deliberately skims over the fraught politics of Obamacare — aiming instead to tout the law’s benefits through 100 million friend-to-friend contacts, driven by celebrity flash. Crosson set that tone in the video, which was first posted Thursday morning for his 550,000 YouTube subscribers: “Don’t try to talk about my plan like the people haven’t wanted this; they’ve waited long for this,” Crosson raps in the video. “Take it easy, and rock to this jam from B-Rock O’Beezy.”


PHOTOS: The battle over Obamacare

“If you need that new healthcare, sign up cause it’s hot,” he adds. “Don’t stand and diddle, my healthcare’s the shizzle. It’s chock full of top-notch healthcare provizzles. We’ll cover all your vizzles, your dizzles and your tizzles.”

Asked what provisions of the Affordable Care Act involved those “vizzles” and “dizzles,” Crosson laughed. “There is no definition — that line was supposed to intentionally make people kind of giggle and go ‘what does that mean?’” he said. He wrote the lyric, he said, to get conversations going. “It actually doesn’t mean anything — but it will get your brain going.... Gotcha.”

Since spring, the White House has been collaborating with celebrities like Jennifer Hudson and Amy Poehler, as well as the comedy website Funny or Die, on projects to engage that elusive group of 18- to 34-year-olds who must sign up in order for the insurance program to succeed. During the launch of the enrollment period this fall, many of Obama’s celebrity allies, including Lady Gaga and Connie Britton, posed for pro-Obamacare Twitter and Instagram snapshots urging young people to "#GetCovered.”


But after the troubled rollout of the federal exchange that is the main sign-up vehicle in 36 states, California and other states that have more successfully enrolled residents are taking the lead. Before the Dec. 23 deadline for health insurance coverage that begins Jan. 1, those states will be pushing out daily missives from celebrities like Tatyana Ali of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and Fran Drescher from “The Nanny.” In mid-January, initiative leaders plan to host an eight-hour live-streamed session featuring actors and athletes, as well as noncelebrities, explaining why they needed health insurance.

“Those under 30 live and breathe social media — they live Twitter, they live Facebook,” said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California.

Though research has indicated strong demand for health insurance among younger adults, some recent studies have shown that many are unsure about the law and whether it will help them. A poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics showed that the millennial generation — once strong supporters of the healthcare law — have become increasingly skeptical of its benefits. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey of uninsured Californians showed demand for health insurance among young adults, but an erroneous belief among many that they won’t qualify for subsidies.

The new social media campaign, Lee said, offers an opportunity to tackle those misconceptions.

“Polling about the law is really not that relevant,” Lee said. Young people aren’t “voting about the law. What they’re doing is walking down the street scared because they don’t have insurance, and they know that they’re an accident away from being in debt.”

“If you put before young people what insurance costs them, what they get — they want to buy,” he said.

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