With hours before the deadline to sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, the White House pulled out all the stops – fueling its final drive with celebrity tweets, an appearance by Vice President Joe Biden on the Rachael Ray show, and a push in key states by allied groups such as Organizing for Action and Planned Parenthood.
“I think everyone is going to be really surprised and pleased how well this has turned out,” Biden said on Ray’s daytime talk show, where he leavened his healthcare message with stories of his efforts to continue “romancing” and “chasing” his wife, Jill.
On a day when healthcare.gov was overloaded by the last-minute surge in traffic, the vice president stressed the flexibility of the March 31 deadline, noting that as long as consumers had begun the enrollment process online at the federal portal or through the call centers they could “stay in line” for coverage. “Get in the queue now. Get in the queue. There’s still time today,” he said.
The bitter political fight over the law has drawn tens of millions of dollars in anti-Obamacare ads from outside groups. Yet signs of a late surge in enrollment may ultimately point to the success of the White House’s unprecedented social media campaign and efforts to drive signups through disparate cultural venues, from sports radio to hip-hop shows. (Keying in on women as healthcare decision-makers, President Obama made a recent appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show to tout the program.)
Longtime Obama allies in Hollywood and the music industry, including John Legend, Kerry Washington, Connie Britton, Zooey Deschanel and Sarah Silverman took to Twitter on Monday to drive consumers to healthcare.gov to sign up.
“There is nothing sexier than someone with health insurance. #GetCovered! Go to Healthcare.gov now,” comedian Zach Braff tweeted.
Online, Obama’s interview with Zach Galifianakis for Funny or Die’s “Between Two Ferns” -- a major driver of traffic to the federal website -- was up to 23 million views, according to administration officials. The White House’s online spots featuring former NBA star Magic Johnson and the Miami Heat’s LeBron James have notched some 3 million views.
And with an eye toward the key younger demographic, the White House in recent weeks has dispatched Obama, Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama on shows including “Live With Ryan Seacrest” and Univision’s “Locura Deportiva” (“Sports Madness”) to catch young fans who were tuning in for an update on the NCAA basketball championships.
In certain states, the administration’s efforts to attract attention to the law were being supplemented by groups such as Enroll America and Planned Parenthood. On Monday, the latter said its 600 canvassers had been knocking on an average of 29,000 doors a day, armed with tablets that allowed families to complete their applications online right then.
Enroll America, a nonprofit organization set up to increase healthcare access, has held events at community colleges across Arizona, and it hosted a bus tour across Texas that made stops in six cities to encourage enrollment within the Latino community, whose interest has lagged.
Organizing for Action, the nonprofit advocacy group that is the successor to Obama’s campaign organization, used the March 31 deadline as a tool to raise money: “While we’re fighting like hell to get as many Americans signed up for healthcare as possible, we’re also facing a huge fundraising deadline at midnight tonight,” Executive Director Jon Carson wrote in an email solicitation to supporters. “I’m asking you to help right now.”
Though the White House and its allies still have a long way to go before the midterm elections, new polls suggest that views of the healthcare law have recovered since the disastrous rollout last fall. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released Monday found that 49% of Americans supported the law and that 48% opposed it, marking the law’s high point in that survey since August 2009.
The most encouraging news for Obama and his allies may be the upward tilt among young adults, who are crucial to the law’s success. About 54% of young adults under the age of 40 said they approved of the law in the ABC/Washington Post survey, compared with 38% in November.