'Brosurance' Tries to Sell Obamacare: But Will it Work?


by Ross Kenneth Urken

Source: Mainstreet.com

"Brosurance" is a clever marketing campaign launched Tuesday in Colorado aimed at recruiting twenty-somethings to sign up for Obamacare. The initiative--a group effort from non-profits Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, Thanks Obamacare and Progress Now Colorado--features ads with preppy dude-bros doing a keg stand, wearing multiple popped collars or performing rugged outdoor sports. Ostensibly, the campaign's message hits home that this demographic should not forego health insurance despite the lack of immediate need. After all, as the ad says, Gen Y-ers will have to tap into their beer money should a medical emergency arise while uninsured.

Of course, the blithe tone of the ads shrouds an important point: a healthy twenty-something guy ("a bro") without preexisting conditions or a major family predisposition to certain ailments will pay higher premiums under Obamacare than he would have in the last system, as Jonathan Chait noted in his New York piece "Is Obamacare a War on Bros?" This fun marketing is, as such, something of a gambit to entice Gen Y-ers, but the question remains: will this Affordable Care Act evangelism work?

"Lots of campaigns in different states have had a humorous bent, and humor is especially important on social media," said Adam Fox, director of strategic engagement at the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative Colorado who architected this campaign. "The idea is to raise awareness among different constituencies so that they know about their options - and the value of coverage."

Of course, the counter argument holds that a healthy bro will not want to pay the higher premiums found under Obamacare. Young people have uninsured rates that are about 10 percentage points higher than the general population – mostly because they have few health worries and don't want to divert scarce dollars to something they don't expect to need.

Part of these ads, Fox said, is to make Gen Y-ers understand their financial burden may not be as dire as they think. To wit, young people generally make less money than older people, so they are more likely to qualify for monthly financial assistance to help afford insurance, Fox said. And for those Gen Y-ers particularly opposed to the idea of health insurance, there is also a specific plan for "young invincibles" - healthy young people under 30 - that is more affordable. In Colorado, this is cheekily called the CYA plan (Cover Your Assets).

It is important to dispel the conception that it's not essential for twenty-somethings to sign up for Obamacare, according to Gail Wilensky, a senior fellow at international health foundation Project HOPE and the director of Medicare and Medicaid programs from 1990 to 1992.

"Actually they're vitally important," she said of twenty-somethings. "They're what's going to balance the expected high-user population that are going to find their way into the risk pool. Actuarially, the premiums are higher for the younger population, because they want to soften the blow for the free Medicare population."

Wilensky is unsure whether the "Brosurance" ads will effect change, but she's comfortable with the notion that they'll attract attention from a demographic that might otherwise ignore the call to arms.

"The notion there's something inappropriate about making it fun or entertain--it's like, 'hey, this is called advertising,'" said Wilensky. "There's nothing sacrilegious about having a good time trying to get people to buy insurance."

The tactic is kosher, but if young people don't take to the system --where they pay higher premiums so older, less healthy people can get a lower premium--the system at large may suffer.

"The Obama Administration officials and insurance industry executives all worry that the young will balk at this arrangement and not bother to enroll while older, sicker enrollees will swell the insurance rolls," said Devon M. Herrick, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas.

To boot, those Gen Y-ers who eschew the necessity for insurance now would do well to start planning ahead, experts say. That is the universal nature of the collective system.

"The ACA ensures that someone who is healthy and young today will still be eligible for affordable coverage when he or she is 55 and has hypertension or if he or she develops cancer at 30," said Sherry Glied, a health care policy expert who is dean of New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. "Getting signed up now means having coverage no matter what happens later."

Still, convincing the "bros" who are essential to the implementation of the ACA initiative may be harrowing. As The Atlantic notes, Koch-brothers-affiliated Generation Opportunity, launched a six-figure campaign to convince bros not to sign up for the exchanges.

With the counter-forces at work, it may take more than clever marketing to make get Gen Y onboard with Obamacare.

"It will take diverse approaches by lots of different messengers to reach all the communities and populations that need to know about the new coverage options," said Fox from the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. "Ours is one approach that we believe will reach some important constituencies."