Washington (CNN) – The up-to-the-buzzer surge on the federal health care exchanges, which surprised even the law’s ardent backers at the White House, came down to election-style tactics and targeted outreach to young people, officials said on Tuesday.
The crush of sign-ups helped the administration top the coveted 7 million target, which seemed all but impossible late last year as technical problems plagued HealthCare.gov and political opponents amplified their cries for the law’s repeal.
Officials touting the successful enrollment period pointed to two attempts at reaching young Americans as particularly successful – taping the mock interview show “Between Two Ferns” with the comedian Zack Galifianakis, and using Miami Heat forward LeBron James in a 30-second public service announcement that’s airing during March Madness games.
Other athletes began expressing interest in helping with the push after James’ PSA was released. And celebrities – from Kerry Washington to Jared Leto – flooded Twitter with messages of support as the March 31 deadline approached.
Officials compared the push to a “get out the vote” campaign ahead of an election – using techniques that penetrate Americans’ lives, even if they’re not tuned into the political discussion. Putting administration officials on sports radio, hitting airwaves during the NCAA tournament, and appearing on comedy websites all contributed to the onslaught.
The administration marketed the exchanges to young, healthy Americans since their participation in the program is essential to keeping premiums low. The effort, officials said, exceeded their expectations in the final days of enrollment, when millions of people flocked to the website to enroll.
The White House has yet to say how many of the 7 million who signed up are considered young and healthy, though White House officials contend the breakdown contains enough adults aged 18-34 to keep costs reasonable.
Also in question: How many of those who signed up will actually pay their premium? Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told an Oklahoma TV station on Monday that insurers were reporting that 80% to 90% had paid.
Those outstanding questions are likely to provide fuel for the law’s opponents, who continue to call for its repeal in Congress. White House officials on Tuesday, however, said the success in reaching the 7 million figure would bolster Democrats’ case in the coming midterm elections. Now that millions of Americans have enrolled, the officials reasoned, repealing the law has become untenable.