March Madness: White House Pushes ObamaCare Through NCAA Tournament

March Madness: White House Pushes ObamaCare Through NCAA Tournament

The NCAA basketball tournament is wildly popular. ObamaCare isn’t. So to boost interest in the latter the White House will hitch its star to the former. Can we get a Supreme Court ruling on the separation of sport and state, please?

The basketball-ObamaCare promotional assault starts Monday when the White House releases its “16 Sweetest Reasons to Get Covered,” a play on the tournament’s Sweet 16 round. A video, featuring the president and two as-yet unnamed college coaches, will accompany the “16 Sweetest Reasons…” On Wednesday, the president commandeers ESPN to unveil his bracket and unleash a pitch for viewers to sign up for health insurance through the government exchanges.

Last year, the president’s bracket attracted nearly 300,000 views on WhiteHouse.gov. Though Barack Obama’s bracket winner Indiana fell to Syracuse in the Sweet 16, the Basketballer-in-Chief’s predictions became one of the more popular entries on the White House website. The administration’s communications team hopes this year’s views for the presidential bracket translate into ObamaCare sign-ups, thus the full-court, Billy Donovan-style pressure defense.  

If sports serve as your escape, Big Brother plans on finding you over the next two weeks. LeBron James, who has enjoyed considerable success selling Big Macs and Sprites, penitentially appears in a television commercial pitching health care. The spot will run on TNT, ABC, ESPN, and other networks broadcasting basketball.  

“Hi, I’m LeBron James,” the two-time NBA champion announces in the ad infinitum-running ad. “I know how important it is to take care of yourself, your friends, and your family. That’s why I wanted to tell you about the health insurance marketplace at healthcare.gov. You can go there to find an affordable health plan as part of the health-care law. The deadline to enroll is March 31. So sign up now.”

That “sign up now” hard sell stems from the administration’s difficulties in convincing enough Americans to enroll in the president’s signature policy before the final buzzer sounds. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the program needs 7 million sign-ups to attain solvency. The Department of Health and Human Services reports just 4.2 million enrollees. The bureaucracy refuses to say how many of those sign-ups have paid up. The lack of enthusiasm among young, healthy people, crucial to subsidizing the costs of older, sicker people, helps explain the push involving collegiate basketball and the president’s recent appearance on Funny or Die’s Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis.

It is crunch time, and the administration’s prospects for boosting 18- to 34-year-old enrollees from the current 25 percent to the desired 40 percent appear as promising as Weber State’s chances of beating Arizona. But like any self-respecting 16 seed, the administration will give it the college try.

“Building on our efforts to reach young consumers where they are during the final weeks of open enrollment, next week the Obama administration, well-known athletes, coaches, and other influencers are launching a push around March Madness to encourage tournament fans young and old to sign up for insurance by March 31,” Time quotes an administration official. “This effort will feature PSAs from athletes and coaches, new digital engagement tools and social media blitzes, and targeted interviews on sports radio, including Spanish Language sports radio, throughout the week. Officials from the White House and across the Administration, including many who are former basketball players, will participate in various ways.”

The White House likens the federally-funded push to a full-court press. Critics call for a technical foul.

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