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HR/BENEFITS

White House Promotes 'Geek' Insurance for Startups

Following President Obama's successful Between Two Ferns appearance, the White House launches a new Obamacare marketing campaign aimed at startup "geeks."
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Whoever's doing the White House marketing strategy is doing a bang-up job lately, using a humorous, tongue-in-cheek approach to pitch Obamacare to a youthful, upwardly mobile demographic.

Earlier this week, President Obama's punchy guest appearance on the online faux-talk show Between Two Ferns, hosted by comedian Zach Galifianakis, gave a big traffic bump to Healthcare.gov. The interview, in which the President encouraged viewers to enroll for health coverage through the site--"it works great"--was posted to the Funny or Die website on Tuesday morning. Tuesday's traffic to Healthcare.gov was up almost 40 percent compared to the day before. It's too early to know yet, but supposedly--hopefully--many of these visitors are precisely the "young invincibles" (Galifianakis: "Young invisibles? That's impossible") whose participation in the healthcare market is key to making the economics of Obamacare work.

Then today, the White House kicked off a new campaign, called Geeks Get Covered, with a ready made hashtag (#geeksgetcovered) and a one-minute YouTube video in which a young, diverse bunch of "geeks" employed at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy share reasons why their fellow geeks should get covered.

"America's full of geeks, and that's a good thing," says Ryan Panchadsaram, senior advisor to the chief technology officer Todd Park, in the video. The ad's definition of "geek" is broadly inclusive, with shout-outs to entrepreneurs, inventors, heads of tech startups, scientists, researchers, engineers, app developers, coders, and freelance web designers. What these drivers of the economy need to succeed is "the freedom and security to keep innovating, and that means not worrying about access to affordable health care."

In a message announcing the Geeks Get Covered campaign on the White House website, Todd Park gets even more specific about the benefits of this "security," including the ability for innovators to "pursue their dreams without fear of losing coverage or worrying that a preexisting condition or new illness will bankrupt their families." And he cites a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study that predicts the number of self-employed Americans will be 1.5 million higher in 2014 because the Affordable Care Act makes it easier to go it alone.

According to the National Association for the Self-Employed, nearly 78 percent of U.S. small businesses are solo entrepreneurs. The Census Bureau's annual tally of "nonemployer businesses," taken from tax return data, shows about 20 million of these solo-businesses in 2011. "Geeks" make up a significant share of the self-employed: the number of independent web developers has roughly doubled in the past 10 years, according to analysis by Economic Modeling Specialists Inc. Other free-agent categories on the rise include scientists, human resources specialists, computer and IT managers, editors and technical writers, and market research analysts.

Whether the latest charm offensive from the White House can go viral with this grab bag of geeks remains to be seen. But successfully wooing this influential and relatively affluent demographic could go a long way to ensuring Obamacare's ultimate success.

Last updated: Mar 12, 2014

ADAM BLUESTEIN

Adam Bluestein is a frequent contributor to Inc., writing about health care, innovation, and new technology. He lives with his wife and two children in Burlington, Vermont.




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