Athletes help promote Healthcare Reform

By: Ben Wolfgang (Washington Post) March 2014

Having already targeted Hispanics, blacks and moms, the White House is using the kickoff of March Madness as a way to argue Obamacare will help cover sports injuries — an effort to reach out to the young, active adults critical to the overall success of the health care reform law.

The administration on Tuesday enlisted NBA veteran Shane Battier to help sell the program, while North Carolina men’s basketball coach Roy Williams and Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma starred in a government-produced video directing Americans to vote in a health care bracket, complete with the top 16 reasons one should get affordable health insurance.

The initiative is part of the administration’s larger effort to use nontraditional means to persuade the uninsured to sign up for new health care plans. The effort also has seen President Obama appear on Internet comedy programs and included the use of celebrities, such as former ‘N Sync member Lance Bass, to push the law.

By using high-profile athletes, the White House aims to enroll more young Americans — those more likely to play sports and a subset of the uninsured who are central to making Obamacare work.

“It’s important to make sure you have great health care because you never know when you’re going to take a hit,” Mr. Battier, who has won two NBA championships as a member of the Miami Heat, told reporters Tuesday on a conference call. “These injuries, as common as they are, can cost a lot of money.”

Mr. Battier isn’t the only member of the Heat to publicly lobby for Obamacare. Superstar LeBron James and Heat executive Alonzo Mourning — who has golfed with Mr. Obama several times in recent months — also have promoted the program in video spots.

Mr. Battier delivered his pitch Tuesday in conjunction with the release of a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services highlighting the high costs of sports-related injuries. The average cost of a sprain or strain for a 25- to 40-year-old is more than $3,000, the report said.

The federal report also said that about 12 million Americans ages 5 to 22 are hurt playing sports every year, resulting in about $33 billion in health care costs annually.

“For those without health insurance, these injuries — which can happen to anyone, regardless of overall health status — can be very expensive. A sprained ankle, for example, can cost you $2,290, and charges for a broken arm, for example, average nearly $7,700,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “This can be a huge financial blow to young people and families alike.”

The public-relations effort aimed at younger Americans comes at a crucial time for Obamacare.

With less than two weeks left before the end of the program’s open-enrollment period, it’s unclear whether enough Americans ages 18 to 34 will sign up to offset the higher costs of sick and elderly patients who cannot be denied coverage.

As of March 1, about one in four of the more than 5 million Americans who signed up for insurance fell into that age range. Some analysts say at least 40 percent of enrollees must be ages 18 to 34 in order to balance out the costs of covering the older and sicker.