Barack Obama
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Showbiz group plans PR effort to promote healthcare law

Jennifer Hudson, Kal Penn and Amy Poehler were among the entertainment figures who met at the White House on Monday to plan an education campaign aimed at young people explaining the new health care law.

President Obama stopped by the meeting, which was hosted by White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, sources said.

In the works is a campaign in which celebrities and Hollywood creative figures will create social media messages, video clips and other media to promote the Affordable Care Act and their options. On Oct. 1, the law’s health insurance exchanges will be opened, and a heavy emphasis is being placed on enrolling young people, many of whom otherwise may not have purchased insurance in the past.

Also present were Funny or Die’s Mike Farah and YouTube Comedy’s Daniel Kellison, “Royal Pains” creator Andrew Lenchewski, producer and manager and Eric Ortner, and songwriter Bruce Roberts. Reps for Oprah Winfrey, Alicia Keys, Jon Bon Jovi and the Recording Academy and Latin Grammys also attended.

Funny or Die and YouTube already are in production on several comedic web videos. An idea is to reach audiences beyond traditional media, like political sites and the evening newscasts, but via “earned” media pop culture outlets. The White House official noted, as an example, Us magazine and “Entertainment Tonight,” where even short messages can reach millions.

The White House official noted that the celebrities can reach large fan bases beyond D.C., particularly through social media.

Ortner, Roberts and Penn are leading the organizing effort as co-chairs of the White House’s Entertainment Advisory Council. During Obama’s reelection campaign, Ortner and Roberts coordinated the involvement of entertainment figures in campaign appearances, social media messaging and web videos.

In an interview, Ortner noted that opponents of the health care law are still waging what he described as a misinformation campaign about what the law will do. “The solution is earned media and authentic social media with context,” he said.

Ortner, who has been producer at “Today” and “Good Morning America,” was a volunteer emergency medical technician at the time of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. He said that the campaign for the new health care law is personal for him, because he suffered an injury then that made it difficult to purchase insurance. He said that with the insurance exchanges, a plan that would have cost him $1,800 per month instead will cost less than $500.

When Congress was debating healthcare reform in 2009 and 2010, few Hollywood figures stepped forward in a lobbying campaign to urge lawmakers to pass some version of the legislation, as it proved to be particularly polarizing.  In 2010, Andy Griffith faced criticism from the right when he appeared in an ad for the Department of Health and Human Services explaining the changes to Medicare under the healthcare law.

But Ortner and others point say that polling shows gradual acceptance of the law as it is implemented. The campaign also will be aimed at a younger audience of 18-to-35 year olds.

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