Generation Opportunity—a group funded by the oil billionaire Koch brothers—captured the Internet’s attention with an ad showing Uncle Sam giving what appears to be a visual proctology exam. It has generated 3.5 million views on YouTube, almost 800,000 more clicks than the number of 18 to 34 year-olds that Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges must enroll to succeed.
With the health insurance exchanges opening today, the marketing battle over this generation has begun. It’s not the earnest “Hope and Change” message that galvanized younger voters for President Obama in 2008, but an intense marketing campaign that draws on irony, slick explanations, and personal outreach.
The conservative group’s Uncle Sam has already joined the ranks of Freddy Krueger and Jason from the Halloween movie series. “We’ve even had people call us asking if they can buy a Creepy Uncle Sam costume for Halloween,” said David Pasch, spokesman for Generation Opportunity. Tonight, that same Uncle Sam mascot will be hanging out at a Capitol Hill bar full of young congressional staffers.
While conservative groups are trying to push young people away from Obamacare, the administration is investing in pulling them in.
The White House needs at least 2.7 million of the 19 million uninsured millennials to enroll in the exchanges before March in order to subsidize the cost of caring for older, sicker Americans. As part of a $1.25 billion outreach effort, the administration has enlisted basketball star LeBron James, Oprah Winfrey, and Jay-Z to spread the word to their uninsured fans.
Convincing a group of young uninsured people to pay for something they have been living without is a tough sell. They could always forgo coverage and pay a relatively small tax penalty next year or less than 1 percent of their income. Or they could opt for a less expensive “catastrophic” plan that isn’t part of the exchange risk pool, or choose to remain on their parents’ health plans until they’re 26 years old.