Advertising executives didn’t need a scientific study to surmise what would draw young adults to ads that encourage people to buy health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

They went with skin – lots of it.

“He may not be naked. He could be wearing a Speedo,” Wendy Wolf said with a laugh, referring to an ad showing a young man who is otherwise unclothed but covered by a strategically placed laptop computer.

“Dude, it’s time to get covered,” proclaims the ad for that ran this week in the Portland Phoenix alternative newspaper.

Wolf, executive director of the Maine Health Access Foundation, and others are making the final push to enroll Mainers age 18 to 34 before the ACA’s March 31 deadline. Experts say the enrollments will hold down insurance costs while benefiting those younger Mainers.

Statistics released this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show that 19 percent of the 25,412 Mainers who had signed up on the federal health insurance marketplace through Feb. 28 are in that 18-to-34 age bracket.


That’s below the national average of 25 percent, and partly reflects the challenge posed by Maine’s population, the oldest in the nation.

Wolf’s foundation runs the website and is the nonprofit organization primarily responsible for getting the word out about the health insurance marketplace, where the uninsured can apply for benefits under the Affordable Care Act. They have until March 31 to sign up for 2014 benefits and avoid paying penalties.

Wolf said the foundation redirected its advertising campaign to young adults at the end of 2013, with about 60 percent of its ads geared toward the 18-to-34 crowd, up from about 35 percent in the fall. The foundation is spending about $2.5 million to persuade people to sign up.

Is it working? Wolf said it’s hard to tell, because many young people procrastinate until the bitter end.

Wolf said the unofficial target is to get 20 percent of the 18-to-34 age group enrolled, but the goal is as many young adults as possible.

The more younger, healthier people sign up, the more insurance costs can be controlled because those people use the health care system less than older, sicker populations. Their premiums help cover the cost of older enrollees.


Will Chapman, 23, of Greenwood said he agreed to participate in a radio ad for the enroll 207 campaign in part because his peers often assume that health insurance is unaffordable. Chapman, a library science student at the University of Maine-Augusta who also works part time, said he signed up in November and pays $12 per month in premiums.

“If people just knew it was only $15, $20 or $30 a month, there would be a lot less reluctance,” Chapman said.

Meredith Strang Burgess, whose Portland-based Burgess Advertising produced the naked man ad and other ads for enroll 207, said she and her team had to “channel our younger, inner selves” for inspiration.

“Everyone thought it was hysterical,” Strang Burgess said of the naked man ad.

She also bounced ideas off her three sons, who are in their 20s and 30s, for the social media campaign and advertising on cable television geared toward young men and women.

“I’m feeling very hip right now,” said Strang Burgess, who’s 57.


Even President Obama has gotten into the act, appearing on the Web-based faux-interview show “Between Two Ferns” with host Zach Galifianakis. The actor pretends to be an insulting, public access-style talk show host, and Obama plays along, skewering Galifianakis for his lack of athletic ability and for “The Hangover Part III.”

When Obama starts pitching the Affordable Care Act, Galifianakis responds, “Is this what they mean by ‘drones’?”

Strang Burgess said she had never heard of “Between Two Ferns” and was initially confused by its quirky, deadpan style. Once she figured out what was going on, she said, she thought it was “brilliant.”

“That’s what everyone needs to be doing, is different things to reach different demographics,” she said.

Kevin Lewis, executive director of Maine Community Health Options, one of two insurers in Maine’s marketplace, said that as the deadline nears, the enrollees are tending to be younger.

He said his organization expected young people to sign up late.


Azia Gilbert, 26, of Portland, a junior at the University of Southern Maine, said she has known about the health insurance marketplace for a while, but is having a hard time deciding whether to buy insurance.

To qualify for subsidies, Gilbert said, she would have to boost her income. That means working more hours and reducing her class load. She said she would get the peace of mind of having insurance, but it would take an extra year to graduate.

“It’s going to be an impulsive, last-minute decision,” she said.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @joelawlorph

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