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Counting down to Obamacare

September 27, 2013

    Dan Diamond, Managing Editor

    How many days are we away, exactly, from the much-anticipated launch of the Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchanges?

    For two weeks, Emma Sandoe's Twitter feed has provided the answer, one bite-sized fact at a time.

    By day (and by night, given how responsive she is to questions), Emma's a spokesperson for CMS. But she's also well-known for her wit on social media; the Daily Briefing reported on Emma back in 2012, after she created the popular Health Policy Valentines meme, which had wonks and journalists falling in love with the clever, nerdy idea.

    So what's up with Emma's new Twitter countdown—is it a subtle CMS social media strategy? We quickly caught up after a frenzied week that was in dire need of Friday frivolity.

    Q: It seems like this was the moment when you shifted from just counting down on ACA implementation to actively giving us meaningful numbers. What was the trigger? Did you know then that you'd do a three-week countdown?

    Emma Sandoe: I came to DC over five years ago to pass, and then work on, the Affordable Care Act. I'm just so excited about the implementation that I felt the urge to tell the Twitter world; however, I think people got tired of my tweets saying, "This is so exciting!"

    I've had a countdown in my office forever, but one day I looked at it and just decided to tweet about it. I knew then that I'd do it every day. 

    Q: What's your process? Do you know all of these random presidential facts and mathematical formulas? If not, how are you finding them?

    Sandoe: Before work, I quickly read the Wikipedia page [for the number]. When I have time or am walking somewhere I'll tweet something I can remember about the number. I am a sucker for presidential trivia and spend every President's Day [holiday] learning facts about a different presidentthat part comes easy. I also encounter a lot of facts about states that I like to share. 

    Dan, they aren't math formulas, they are facts about numbers. If I could do this life thing again, I'd be a mathematician. 

    Q: You've tweeted dozens of these facts in the past two weeks. Which ones have been your favorites?

    Sandoe: My favorite got no love (retweets). I found this one most interesting, and I giggled as I wrote [the following three].

    Q: Has anyone tweeted random facts back at you? If so, any good ones?

    Sandoe: While [President Obama] was speaking at Prince Georges Community College, I was speaking with Sam Baker of The Hill ... Sam said "this college must have five of something," and I quickly searched for five related facts. I was lucky that Google told me it was the fifth largest college in Maryland.

    People mainly like to dispute my soccer facts. Soccer seems extremely popular amongst the health policy Twitter community.

    Q: This isn't just a super-stealth CMS campaign, is it? (I assume you're doing it on your own time.)

    Sandoe: I'm doing this all on my own, without any influence from my employer. 

    Q: Do you have any tweets already planned for the next few days? What are you going to do when we hit zero?

    Sandoe: Nothing is planned until the day of [Oct. 1].

    I love, and live, and breathe for Medicaid. I can't wait until Medicaid coverage expansion begins on January 1st. I'm not promising a countdown—but there [are] enough Medicaid facts for me to be busy until the end of the year. 

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