March Madness and Obamacare: A slam dunk? An airball?

  • Article by: JONATHAN MAHLER , Bloomberg
  • Updated: March 19, 2014 - 6:11 PM

In any case, it’s one more part of our lives in which politics has put on the full-court press.

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You may notice something a little different about this year’s March Madness, a little something extra. In addition to all of the buzzer-beating, bracket-busting action, you’re going to be hearing a lot about Obamacare, the fate of which is also going down to the wire.

The Obama administration is hoping to piggyback on the popularity of the annual NCAA men’s basketball tournament to encourage millions of sports fans to sign up for Obamacare before the March 31 deadline. The cross-promotion has already begun. This week, the White House website released its “16 Sweetest Reasons to Get Covered,” each with its own click-bait GIF. How do you like the first lady throwing down a dunk on a miniature hoop? (“Women can’t be charged more than men.”) Maybe you prefer a good pratfall? (“Because accidents happen.”) You can’t go wrong with a pet video; there are eight to choose from.

A couple of administration officials joined with NBA star Shane Battier to discuss a new Health and Human Services report on the economic costs of common sports injuries. (For the uninsured, a sprained ankle can cost $2,290; a broken arm averages nearly $7,700.)

More is on the way. Once the tournament gets underway, it will be a full-court press, including a television ad starring King James: “Hi, I’m LeBron James. I know how important it is to take care of yourself, your friends and your family. That’s why I wanted to tell you about the health insurance marketplace at HealthCare.gov. You can go there to find an affordable health plan as part of the health-care law. The deadline to enroll is March 31. So sign up now.”

It’s not surprising that the administration would wrap its last-ditch effort to enroll health insurance consumers around March Madness. Last year, the tournament averaged 10.7 million viewers a game, and was especially popular among millennials, the demographic whose participation is central to Obamacare’s success.

Conservatives aren’t going to like it. They already don’t like the federal government extending its reach into health care, and they won’t like hearing the pitch for Obamacare extended to college hoops. Polarization, which has already made its way into just about every corner of American life, is now burrowing its way into sports. Get ready for some real March Madness.

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