White House turns to ‘Magic’ to sell Obamacare

Eager for an assist in getting young Americans to sign up for Obamacare, the White House is turning to NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.

Johnson, in a two-minute video released Wednesday, notes that access to reliable health care “saved my life” with the early detection of his HIV infection 22 years ago.

"If it wasn’t for that quality health care that I had, and the plan that I had, I probably would have been dead," Johnson says in the video.

“You never know when you’re going to need it,” the former world-class athlete says. “Young people, they think they’re Superman, like nothing’s ever going to happen to them. But trust me, one day something’s going to happen, and you’re going to need a quality health plan, so make sure you get Obamacare.”

The retired Los Angeles Laker, 54, is the NBA’s all-time leader in average assists per game. He plans to promote the video—soon to be a 30-second ad on networks like ESPN, ABC and TNT—via Twitter and on a blog.

The Obama administration has acknowledged that people signing up for coverage on the new insurance marketplaces known as “exchanges” have tended to be older. To keep premiums from rising sharply, Obamacare needs younger and (generally) healthier Americans to sign up to balance out older and (potentially) less healthy people. Obama aides have predicted that younger folks will wait  to enroll until late in the process and near the March 31 deadline to sign up.

But with the president's signature domestic achievement potentially in the balance, the White House can't leave that to chance.

“Magic’s video comes as we are continuing to ramp up our aggressive outreach effort to reach young people as we head into the second half of open enrollment, working with allies across the spectrum, including grass-roots organizers, elected officials, colleges and universities, celebrities, athletes, and arts leaders,” an administration official said. The official, who requested anonymity, noted that Obama met in a cafe last week with five young people. (One entertaining account of what happens when the president sits down near you at a cafe is here.)

The push to enroll young Americans will include making door-to-door pitches, pressing religious leaders to discuss enrollment with their congregations, encouraging employers to inform their employees, campaigning via social media, and a “National Youth Enrollment Day,” Feb. 15.