Illinois Teams Up with The Onion to Attract Young ACA Enrollees

It may read like an Onion headline, but this one is for real.

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Get Covered Illinois, the state's official Affordable Care Act, is partnering with the satirical news site The Onion’s creative services division Onion Labs, in an attempt to get young and healthy people buy health insurance before the March 31 deadline.

“Reaching the population known as ‘Young Invincibles’ is an important part of our effort to educate and enroll all of Illinois’ uninsured population,” said Jennifer Koehler, executive director of Get Covered Illinois, in a statement on the state’s exchange site. “We know that to effectively reach Young Invincibles – who are 53 percent of our uninsured residents in Illinois – we have to work with non-traditional, and especially digital, sources for news and entertainment. That’s where The Onion fits right into our outreach strategy.”

The partnership will call for The Onion to run banner ads on its site promoting a man who is “forced to sell his action figures to pay medical bills because he failed to get health coverage.”

Both state and federal exchanges have struggled to attract the much-needed younger demographic of enrollees, those ages 18 34, to sign up for coverage to help keep premium levels down and offset the cost of insuring older and less healthy enrollees. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that since open enrollment period kicked off on Oct. 1, more than 3 million people have selected plans on state and federal exchanges, 24% of which are in that coveted demo.

Under the ACA, every individual in the country has to have insurance by the end of open enrollment period, or they will face a fine of $95 or 1% of their annual income for failing to comply.

Peter Shankman, branding expert and author of Nice Companies Finish First, says Illinois could be onto something with its latest campaign partner and wouldn’t be surprised to see it go national. reached out to the Department of Health and Human Services for comment but did not receive a response.

“There is a high level of instability in kids—and they are hanging out on The Onion, so there is no question about it being a smart move,” Shankman says, adding that even though the satirical site is known for its fake stories, “the one thing The Onion doesn’t screw around with is ads,” so that young enrollees will take the move seriously.

And the move is a nice departure from the misguided attempts the administration has made at grabbing the attention of young people that has included enlisting celebrities, showcases moms and posting the now-infamous “Pajama Boy” ads during the holidays.

“If nothing else, I like the idea that they are trying something new—it’s nice to not see them doing the typical thing,” Shankman says.

Larry Kocot, Brookings Institution visiting fellow, who was involved in the rollout out Medicare part D in 2006, says it’s important to meet potential enrollees where they “eat, work, pray and play.”

“I think they [local and federal governments] will use as much creativity as they can muster to appeal to people,” Kocot says, as the enrollment deadline for year one of the ACA draws nearer.

But while nearly everyone, especially ‘young invincibles,’ appreciates satire and good humor as offered on The Onion, it’s unclear if the push will prove to be what is needed to get this group to enroll.

“That is the $64,000 question,” Kocot says. “This may reach them, and appeal to them—but will they take action and pay a premium? The jury is still out on that.”