WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is ramping up a plan to use the federal government's social media accounts and websites to help convince millions of Americans, including those who "mistrust government," to sign up for health insurance through Obamacare, according to a confidential administration presentation obtained by BuzzFeed.
The White House last Tuesday hosted government agency social media directors and chief technology officers in a summit aimed at coordinating communications around a central administration goal of President Barack Obama's second term: persuading people without health insurance to sign up for it. The meeting was led by Tara McGuinness, the White House communications point person on Obamacare implementation. The document obtained by BuzzFeed is a handout authored by the Department of Health and Human Service's Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and its authenticity was confirmed by the White House.
Leveraging the government's hundreds of social media accounts is part of a massive campaign-like operation to put Obamacare front and center in the minds of millions of Americans the White House needs to sign up for insurance in order to make the health-care law work. The White House bristles at the comparison to a political campaign, saying that similar efforts were mounted when the government rolled out Medicare Part D under George W. Bush. The White House also stresses that a main online focus will be on placing information about Obamacare on websites frequented by targeted groups.
Nevertheless, the CMS handout reads like a memo from the vaunted Obama campaign operation, with an emphasis on collecting email and mobile numbers from prospective enrollees and sketching out surrogate travel by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (listed as KGS on the document) to a list of 15 cities mostly in red states with large Latino populations. HHS has created an online repository for widgets and other items to add to government websites during this summer's push for enrollees.
The official said the document is meant to help spread the word on HealthCare.gov, an insurance portal that will be key to registering new people for insurance under Obamacare.
There are three groups central to the White House effort, according to the handout: the "Healthy and Young," who the document states "feel invulnerable" and are "unlikely to see value" of insurance; the "Active, Sick and Worried," who "need and want coverage but don't know how to choose;" and the "Passive & Unengaged," who are "uninterested in coverage" and "mistrust government."
The presentation document says 26% of the young people the government hopes to convince to sign up for coverage are Latino, and the presentation calls for "cross promotion in Spanish" on government "social media channels." A White House "digital tool kit" for government social media communicators includes "Spanish Materials."
Other tactics to sell people on health insurance include tying coverage advertising to "motivational posts" revolving around "special events." An example of this tactic in action came around Mother's Day, when Obama used the holiday to tout the health-care law at the White House surrounded by moms. At the time, White House officials said research shows mothers can motivate their children to buy health insurance coverage, and the administration hopes getting moms on board will help get more young people to sign up. Observers have said getting young people, specifically young men, to buy insurance coverage — even at the discounted rates created by the health reform law — will be a challenge.
Less clear from the document is how the White House intends to reach out to the "Passive & Unengaged," the people who don't trust the government. The document does not detail how large the administration estimates this group to be or what tactics they suggest for connecting with them.
A senior White House official said participation in the online effort is not required of all cabinet agencies.