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The Affordable Care Act wants you

By Leigh Ann Caldwell, CNN
updated 4:07 PM EDT, Tue March 18, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The deadline to apply for health insurance is March 31
  • White House campaign includes YouTube and sports stars, moms and cats
  • Obama administration says 5 million have signed up for coverage

Washington (CNN) -- Less than two weeks remain before the March 31 deadline to apply for the Affordable Care Act and the Obama administration is getting creative in reminding Americans to sign up by trying to reach every demographic imaginable.

The administration this month is deploying quirky stunts and niche messaging to reach as many people as possible, including those "young invincibles" considered essential to making the program work economically.

So far, the administration says it has signed up 5 million people. Here's what it's doing to boost the rolls between now and the end of the month when those who don't have insurance of any kind would face a fine of $95 or 1% of their income, whichever is higher.

College basketball fans: As NCAA "March Madness" kicks into high gear this week, the White House unveiled its own spin on the popular basketball tournament bracket by unveiling the ACA bracket where people can vote on the "16 sweetest reasons to get covered."

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Get it? A play on the NCAA tournament "Sweet 16."

A video of University of North Carolina men's basketball coach Roy Williams and University of Connecticut women's coach Geno Auriemma lead off the ACA bracket with a video encouraging people to sign up.

On the online bracket are 16 reasons with corresponding light-hearted GIFs. For example, the reasons "women can't be charged more than men" is combined with a GIF of first lady Michelle Obama slam dunking on NBA players. That's paired with the "accidents happen," with a GIF of a woman dressed in spandex and a headband, dancing ridiculously then slipping off a public bathroom countertop.

Cat fans: Included on the page are GIFs of scary cats, adorable cats and random cats. There's also a random electronic Elmo that throws itself off the shelf because "nobody's invincible."

More college hoops: The administration sees a lot of opportunity with the NCAA tourney as much of its final outreach is dedicated to the popular sporting event that concludes in early April.

The White House is also attempting to parlay the popularity of the President's annual basketball bracket -- a recent tradition that registered the most views of any blog on WhiteHouse.gov during 2013 -- into tangible enrollments by updating the results of the ACA bracket based on the "winning" votes from online users.

In an effort to reach "tournament fans young and old," the Department of Health and Human Services unveiled a report Tuesday about the frequency and cost of recreational sports injuries.

In a blog post, Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote that "a sprained ankle, for example, can cost you $2,290, and charges for a broken arm, for example, average nearly $7,700."

Young YouTube fans: The bracket-mania is fresh off the heels of Obama's recent foray into viral video comedy. Last week, Obama was a guest on Zach Galifianakis' "Funny or Die" Web series "Between Two Ferns" where the President touted the Affordable Care Act and the ways to sign up. And carried on the series schtick of insulting the host.

Galifianakis asks Obama if he wished he could run for a third term, Obama replied that two terms are enough -- like two of the host's "Hangover" movies probably would have been enough.

After Obama asked Galifinakis if he's heard of the Affordable Care Act, Galifinakis responded, "Oh yeah, I heard about that. That's the thing that doesn't work."

"The Affordable Care Act works great now," Obama retorted.

Then in a radio interview with Hollywood media mogul, Ryan Seacrest, Obama said that his "Between Two Ferns" skit was a success.

"The amazing thing was afterwards people actually did link to healthcare.gov and people actually signed up for health insurance," Obama told Seacrest.

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Pro basketball fans: The administration is betting that sports is an effective way to reach people who might not normally pay attention to politics or the machinations that happen in Washington.

LeBron James, the Miami Heat star and reigning back-to-back NBA Most Valuable Player, cut a 30-second public service announcement for the administration that will air widely on ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBAtv.

"You never know when you might take a hit," James says in the TV spot.

The White House is also coordinating with Gameplan4me.com, a website where sports stars talk about how they achieved their goals. On the home page of the site is the usual banner question, "What's your Game Plan?" followed by the subheading, "Did you know that 48 million Americans are without a health insurance plan and one accident away from the costly expenses of not being covered?"

"Watch videos from sports and entertainment professionals, play games, learn how to be ready for the unexpected and find useful links to information on health care options," the site's home page says.

Hispanic sports fans: To appeal to the Hispanic sports enthusiast, ESPN Deportes network will air an interview with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who's already given interviews to sports talk radio stations to help pitch enrolling in the federal health care exchange, on its syndicated network of stations.

Scholars and researchers: The White House recently launched a campaign, #GeeksGetCovered, to reach "entrepreneurs, researchers, and graduate and postdoctoral students."

Women, especially moms: Obama participated in a recent interview with WebMD, which the White House said "has enormous reach with moms and women," where he promoted the ACA.

And a Web video with the first lady and mothers of celebrities Jonah Hill, Adam Levine, Jennifer Lopez, and Alicia Keys encouraged young people to sign up.

The states: Rhode Island is taking a unique approach to get young people signed up for health care: teaching moms how to use social media apps like Tinder and Twitter to nag their kids.

The website, called "Nag Toolkit," offers step-by-step, illustrated instructions on how to sign up for various apps or dating websites, like SnapChat, Tinder, Twitter and OkCupid.

The site was launched last week by HealthSourceRI, the state exchange's site, Dara Chadwick, HealthSourceRI's chief of strategic communications and media relations, replied in an email.

Tinder is a popular dating app in which users swipe left or right — "nope" or "liked" — on potential dates, based on Facebook-linked pictures.

The Nag Toolkit site teaches parents how to sign up for Tinder, instructing them to "add a FaceBook profile photo with a sign saying 'get health insurance' " so Tinder will use it as its main image.

The website also instructs parents to "create a provocative username" on another dating app, OkCupid, and then search their son or daughter to send them messages about health insurance.

Chadwick calls the effort "a light-hearted campaign with a serious mission," and adds that its target are 23- to 33-year-old Rhode Islanders as well as moms ages 45 and up.

Despite critics, Chadwick takes it in stride.

"As for criticism, that's the way it goes with any advertising campaign," she said. "The good news for us is that people (including young Invincibles) are talking about the importance of health care coverage."

CNN's Jim Acosta, Jason Seher, Adam Aigner-Treworgy and Lorenzo Ferrigno contributed to this story

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