White House harnesses March Madness to promote Obamacare

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In a last-ditch effort to appeal to the young and uninsured ahead of the March 31 deadline, the White House is modeling their final weeks of promoting the law after the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament.

Starting on Monday, the administration will release a "bracket" called "16 Sweetest Reasons to Get Covered" and encourage people to vote for the best reasons. Along with the bracket, they'll push out a video featuring "two of the most recognized coaches in college basketball talking about the importance of getting health insurance and making sure consumers know about the upcoming March 31st deadline," according to a White House official.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services will also air an ad featuring LeBron James on ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBA-TV, adding to a rotation of existing ads that feature other basketball stars Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. The Health and Human Services Department will focus their social media promotion around the tournament as well, including tweets from Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Other top administration officials will call into sports radio stations across the country.

The outreach will be critical to boost the number of younger Americans who sign up for coverage on the exchanges, since they tend to be healthier - and therefore cheaper - than older enrollees. One month before the end of open enrollment, just 25 percent of the 4.2 million people who had signed up for coverage were in the 18 to 34 age bracket. That number would need to be closer to 40 percent to make the marketplaces sustainable.

According to a survey by Bankrate.com, 46 percent of people are still unaware of the deadline for signing up, and a third of Americans without health insurance plan to stay that way, citing the cost of insurance as the most common reason for not signing up.

As a result, the administration has stepped up efforts to reach young people. Last week, President Obama appeared on the comedy web show "Between Two Ferns" with Zach Galifianakis.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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