WASHINGTON -- With precious time remaining before the health care exchanges established by the president's health care law are up and running, the Obama administration is rolling out new initiatives to encourage enrollment.
The latest of these is set to be unveiled on Monday, when the Department of Health and Human Services will debut a video contest -- complete with cash prizes -- designed to persuade younger consumers to get insurance.
The administration will partner with Young Invincibles, a non-profit youth issues organization, to run the contest, with the goal of reaching those younger Americans who are skeptical of the need for health coverage.
Participants will be encouraged to submit three different types of videos advertising the benefits of the exchanges: a song, an animated short, or a video designed to convince viewers that they aren't invincible. Using funds from the Affordable Care Act's education and outreach budget, HHS will award $3,000 each to the creators of the three most popular and persuasive videos, while second and third place winners will get $2,500 each.
“Educating young people about new coverage options requires an all-hands-on-deck approach," Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will say Monday during a speech at a Young Invincibles conference in Houston, according to advanced remarks provided to The Huffington Post. "For millions of young people, health insurance hasn’t been an option because it’s always been out of reach—because it costs too much, or isn’t offered through a job."
The contest is designed to dispel the notion that even young and healthy individuals would be better off simply not purchasing health insurance. It may seem like an odd choice of battlegrounds. But attracting the young demographic is key to the effectiveness of the exchanges, providing insurers with the type of low-risk customers that will help lower premiums across the board. It's no coincidence that many conservative opponents of the Affordable Care Act are actively urging young people to skip the exchanges altogether, even though doing so would mean incurring the tax penalty for not having insurance coverage.
The agency's PR budget for the health care law is $75 million (though the $30,000 being spent by the video project comes from a different pool of funds). That may seem like a lot, but HHS will likely be outspent by opponents of the health care law. The department has searched for ways to spread the word about the exchanges at a lower cost, and has turned to allies like Planned Parenthood for help.
People who wish to enter the video submission contest must do so by Sept. 23. On Oct. 1, the day the exchanges go online, the videos will debut on a website created by Young Invincibles and the public will be allowed to vote on them. The winners will be announced on Oct. 21.
This reporter's wife works for the Office of White House Counsel on matters of congressional oversight, including on the ACA's implementation.