Even while overseas, the Obamas urge Americans to get covered

March 23, 2014
The Obamas are both overseas, but they're still promoting the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images) The Obamas are both overseas, but they're still promoting the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

While Barack and Michelle Obama will be overseas this week, the White House is ensuring they will have a virtual presence in targeted media markets across the country before the Affordable Care Act's initial enrollment period ends March 31.

On Monday, the president will be attending a nuclear security summit in the Netherlands; meanwhile Univision’s radio show “El bueno, la mala y el feo” (the good, the bad and the ugly) will air an interview with him in which he jokes about doing tequila shots and urges Latinos to sign up for insurance even if some members of their family are not legal immigrants.

The first lady is touring China with her two daughters and mother, but she has penned an op-ed about the law that will run Tuesday on The Bump.com, an online site for moms that is part of the XO network.

The Obama administration has devoted most of its outreach efforts for the past several months on a handful of constituencies: young people, women and Hispanics, often in the two dozen U.S. cities that have a disproportionately high numbered of uninsured residents.

In many ways, the approach mirrors what Obama’s staff did during his two presidential campaigns, where they used local and niche media outlets to reach targeted voting blocs. The White House is using color-coded spreadsheets depicting the highest concentrations of the uninsured, according to a senior administration official who asked not to be identified to discuss internal procedures, and then overlays the top radio stations and national syndicates best positioned to reach young listeners in those cities.

Under a central booking strategy, the official added, the administration ensures a market has been saturated with appearances by top officials and their outside allies.

Last week, administration officials and their designated spokespeople — including the president and chief of staff Denis McDonough — appeared on more than 50 radio programs in selected markets. And in the past month, nine celebrities and sports figures — Kobe Bryant, Grant Hill, Kerry Washington, Nia Long, Jurnee Smollett, Star Jones, Tatyana Ali, Aisha Tyler and Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney — have collectively reached roughly 400 radio stations, the administration official said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday the administration has “to be creative” to reach the Americans most likely to lack health plans, “and that’s what we’ve done.”

These media outreach efforts mix serious policy discussion with kitsch. In Monday’s Univision radio interview, according to a transcript, host Sylvia Del Valle (“La Mala”) declares to the president “I love you!” before they go on to talk about health care and the prospects for immigration reform.

“And so I don’t want people to be discouraged from going ahead and getting health insurance, even if it’s just for some of the members of their family,” says the president, who also defends his record on deportations during the show. “They need to know that immigration will have nothing to do with this process.”

Obama also takes up Andres Maldonado’s (“El Feo”) challenge to share tacos and tequila with the program’s hosts if Mexico defeats the U.S. in the World Cup.

“Let me say, first of all, that that’s not punishment to do tacos and tequila,” the president replies. “I should get that — if the Americans win, you have to give me tacos and tequila; you’ll have to send them here to the White House.”

Other top administration officials will conduct regional radio interviews as well as in-person appearances in key cities as the deadline for enrollment nears. Vice President Biden will call into radio programs aimed at younger listeners, while White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett will make an appearance in Los Angeles on Monday and Phoenix on Wednesday.

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.
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