July 6 2013
The Obama administration and its allies need lots of healthy young adults to sign up for insurance this fall to make the president’s health-care law successful.
So they are going after their moms.
They put up Web ads on Facebook and Allrecipes.com alongside slogans such as “Moms know best: ‘Get yourself health insurance.’?” They have enlisted the
help of parent-activist groups such as Moms Rising, which has already begun mobilizing its vast network of more than 1 million members and 3 million e-mail subscribers on behalf of the health-care law.
They are collaborating with Elle and Cosmopolitan magazines, organizing mom-oriented wine-and-cheese parties and
preparing commercials that will run during shows popular with mothers, such as “Good Morning America.” And soon, they plan to deploy first lady Michelle Obama, the nation’s mother in chief, who has already put her stamp on health-care with her anti-obesity “Let’s Move!” campaign.
The targeted messaging is part of an enormous grass-roots campaign mobilizing this summer and fall to persuade uninsured people to sign up for coverage beginning Oct. 1, when systems are expected to be in place for them to find benefits as well as financial assistance from the government, if they qualify.
But it may not be an easy sell, and the effort comes at a time of increasing doubts about the viability of the health-care law. Last week, the administration disclosed it wasdelaying a key provision that would have required large employers to offer health coverage to all full-time workers.
That came on the heels of an announcement by the National Football League that it probably would not lend its name to the law’s promotion efforts — a particular blow in the campaign for young men.
The share of 19- through 25-year-olds who lack coverage has dwindled since the passage of the law, which requires insurers to cover children up to age 26. But41 percent were still uninsured in 2012, according to the Commonwealth Fund.
The White House is aiming initially to sign up 2.7 million healthy young adults for coverage. Young men especially are cheap to insure and are therefore critical to keeping the law on a good financial footing.
As it stands, however, advocates worry that young men will forgo insurance and instead pay the fine, which begins at $95 for the first year.
As a result, insurers, advocates, hospitals and others eager to see the law succeed are mounting costly campaigns to persuade people, particularly young and healthy ones, to buy insurance. And many see mothers as a potent part of that effort.
“In the end, it will be the moms of America who are going to decide if their families get coverage,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who has conducted focus groups for health exchanges in three states. “They will decide and then insist their children and husbands sign up.”
Women, Lake said, are responsible for 80 percent of the health-care spending decisions for families, and they will probably be the ones to delve deeply into the new health insurance options and obligations under the law.
Their influence is particularly strong among men under age 26, who are a key target of advocates because they rarely use medical services and are therefore cheap to insure.
According to her research, when asked whom they would turn to for trusted information about the health-care law, the top answer in that demographic was their mothers.
Mothers, however, have been turned off by the divisive nature of the debate over the law, Lake said.
Even for mothers engaged in politics, the law’s close association with President Obama is not always a plus. While unmarried moms overwhelmingly supported him in last year’s election, married mothers leaned slightly toward Obama’s Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, who had promised to try to repeal the health-care law, exit polls show.
A poll commissioned by Enroll America, a large umbrella group mounting a multimillion-dollar enrollment effort this year, shows that while many poor, uninsured women would like coverage, they are skeptical that they will be able to afford it even with government assistance.
Hadley Heath, health policy analyst for the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, said she believes mothers will ultimately advise their children based on what is best for them, not politics. But as a 25-year-old, she said she finds the mom focus a little condescending.
“I’d rather they talk to me rather than my mom, because I make my own decisions and pay my own bills,” she said.
The administration has already begun its outreach to mothers, with a series of events in conjunction with Mother’s Day in May. In addition to Cosmo, they have reached out to Elle and Ms. Magazine and forged a partnership with Text4baby, a text-
messaging information service for pregnant women and new moms that has more than 500,000 subscribers.
Putting a face on the issue
An official said all the primary White House figures, including Obama, Vice President Biden and Michelle Obama, will eventually be out publicly urging the uninsured to sign up for coverage.
“What Michelle says will be important, because moms really love her,” Lake said.
Enroll America is planning targeted outreach to mothers, including a series of mom-oriented house parties this summer, President Anne Filipic said, adding that they view moms as a top messenger along with doctors. Health officials in Oregon are taking things one step further by targeting grandmothers.
A group poised to become more visible because of its activism around the health-care law is Moms Rising, a nonprofit group that formed in 2006. The group has a “wellness wonder team” of mothers who have pledged to learn about the law and spread the word about its benefits. It also plans to highlight the stories of women and mothers who have already benefited from the law.
“A lot of times, [moms’] stories relate to their children, and their children are their hearts,” said Lisa Doyle, 55, a Moms Rising member in Minnesota, explaining why she thinks mothers’ opinions are so powerful on this issue. “You go out there and you talk with your heart. All of a sudden, all this health-care talk has a face.”
Scott Clement and Sarah Kliff contributed to this report.