Health Care In The States

Washington State’s Insurance Ads: Quirky And Hip Or Offensive?

By Lisa Stiffler, Seattle Times

March 4th, 2014, 11:50 AM

This story was produced in partnership with

Are the new ads promoting health insurance for Washington state’s young people quirky, hip and funny — or are they insulting and offensive?

Michael Marchand says it doesn’t matter.

“I don’t care if people like or hate what I’m doing, so long as they get the URL right,” said Marchand, director of communications for the Washington Healthplanfinder, the website where people can buy subsidized health insurance plans.

The ads, launched in late February, feature two fictitious rappers who interview real residents about their success enrolling in health plans through the state’s exchange. The duo are sort of a caricature of rap artists. One is white and wears an absurdly thick gold chain, a coat with a white furry hood and white baseball cap. The other is African American, chubby and wears a green satin jacket and shades.

In the week after the ads started running, there was a 10 percent increase in the number of young adults initiating and completing their enrollment in health insurance plans through the exchange, Marchand said.

At a recent board meeting of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, which runs the insurance site, board members expressed their concern about the campaign.

“People are really offended” by the ads, said Bill Hinkle, a board member.

He told Marchand he wanted the ads pulled. Hinkle, a former lawmaker from Eastern Washington, said people had approached him to say they thought the ads promoted racial stereotyping and were upset about it.

“We’ve gone a little bit beyond proper taste,” Hinkle said, though he did compliment the campaign as creative and Marchand as audacious.

Richard Onizuka, chief executive officer of the exchange, defended the ads, noting they were well researched to find an approach that would resonate with young adults. The state is working hard to recruit young people through ads, contests to win concert tickets and promotions at events including roller derby bouts.

“We worked with a national marketing firm and they understand the demographic,” Onizuka said.

Locally and nationally, folks running the insurance exchanges have pushed to boost enrollment in “young invincibles” — people who are 18 to 34 years old and may think they are unlikely to need health insurance. The demographic is desirable because they tend to be healthier and cheaper to cover, so their insurance premiums can help pay the medical bills for older, sicker enrollees.

So far, young invincibles make up 23 percent of the insurance exchange enrollees in Washington. Statewide, they represent roughly half of the uninsured population.

Board chair Margaret Stanley asked if the ads could be pulled and replaced with previous ads. Stanley, a retired director of the Puget Sound Health Alliance and former senior vice president at Regence BlueShield, wondered “is this the best use of our dollars and opportunity to reach people?”

Marchand and other officials working for the health insurance exchange said they are going to consider the issue further, but did not commit to removing the ads. They said it came down to a matter a taste.

“Any art form,” Marchand said, “whether it’s ads, painting or music, is going to be subjective.”

10 Responses to “Washington State’s Insurance Ads: Quirky And Hip Or Offensive?”

  1. Rando says:

    Offensive? Insulting? Marchand is right! It doesn’t matter! Why? Because these ads are working and previously uninsured people who have been priced out of the healthcare market their entire lives are now getting affordable healthcare for the very first time! What is it about Republicans hating that average Americans can now afford healthcare? The GOP is the party of hate and spite. A vote for any Republican candidate is a vote to throw America back into the 19th century. The GOP is filled with cave dwellers!

  2. Please include the ages of the people you are quoting. I suspect those who are objecting don’t quite, ummmm, match the target demographic of these ads. I doubt anyone 18 -34, a group that regularly watches The Colbert Report and the Daily Show, doesn’t get the joke.

  3. Lauren A. says:

    LOL. I’m 26 and Black and don’t find the ad offensive at all. It made me laugh…yeah the way they present the “rappers” visually is an exaggerated stereotype, but its not like they are perpetuating any behavioral stereotypes, which is usually what most ppl will find offensive. Who cares what a bunch of old (probably White) men think? They aren’t the target deomgraphic.

  4. Ray says:

    The old (probably white) people objecting are the vast majority. They’re the other 77% of people enrolling. They’re the voters, they’re the business owners, they’re the ones with money, they’re the ones with clout.

    Demographic or not, it’s a bad idea to scare away the majority to attract a minority.

    Also, check your data. CMS claims only 11% of people who used the exchange were previously uninsured (whether they didn’t want it, weren’t eligible, or couldn’t afford it is another story). Yes, they exist, and they’re now able to obtain insurance, but the other 89% already had it (and probably lost it before it was re-obtained it through the exchange). Using the current numbers, that means less than 500k of the 65 million uninsured gained coverage this year, about 00.8% rounding up.

    That’s less than stellar, no matter how you spin it.

  5. Will says:

    Keep on dreaming Ray

  6. Bryan says:

    Rando & Will,

    Some short-sighted Republicans will never get the big picture. Ask any professional insurance person connected with any type of insurance. The key with Obamacare is the same as all other types of insurance. The bigger the risk pool, the less the risk. It’s that simple! It’s basic Insurance 101. However, you can never expect a moron to understand or accept the simple concept of risk pools. Dumb!

  7. Jo says:

    I am middle-aged and white and I LOVE these new commercials. They are clever and funny. Don’t pull them!

  8. Sara says:

    Ha, I’m a young adult and I think these ads are definitely memorable. Nice job Wa Benefits Exchange!

  9. quinn says:

    Excellent Ad! The Best! Only the GOP would find these ads offensive. Keep ‘em coming! I love these ads!

  10. Karin says:

    Just don’t think we should be spending money on advertising something that everyone and their brother already knows about. I think we can spend the money more wisely.