Comedian Zach Galifianakis interviews President Barack Obama on his Funny or Die show "Between Two Ferns." Source: screenshot

Comedian Zach Galifianakis interviews President Barack Obama on his Funny or Die show “Between Two Ferns.” Source: screenshot

WASHINGTON – When President Barack Obama appeared in a video on the comedy website Funny or Die to plug his health care law last week, some pundits were quick to criticize.

“Fox and Friends” host Brian Kilmeade said on his Fox News show that the president’s strategy to promote the Affordable Care Act online marketplaces was inappropriate.

“It’s pretty tragic,” Kilmeade said. “Whoever recommended that he do that show should be fired.”

However, traffic on the site suggests Obama’s strategy to use pitches on comedy shows aimed at getting young people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act’s health coverage may be working.

Obama’s interview on comedian Zach Galifianakis’ Funny or Die show, as well as guest appearances by Vice President Joe Biden on popular talk shows, are part of the administration’s effort to convince young Americans to sign up for health insurance marketplaces by the March 31 deadline.

As of March 1, roughly 4.2 million people had signed up, meaning the administration has a lot of ground to cover if it wants to meet its initial projected target of 7 million enrolled by the end of the month.

“I wouldn’t be with you here today if I didn’t have something to plug,” Obama told Galifianakis, one of the many underhanded insults the two volleyed at one another during the interview. “Most young Americans right now, they’re not covered, and the truth is they can get coverage all for what it costs you to pay your cell phone bill.”

According to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, about 40 percent of enrollees in the health insurance marketplaces must be under the age of 35 in order for the ACA insurance premiums to remain affordable for all enrollees.

“If the pool of those who are insured are disproportionately older and sicker, there will no doubt be significantly higher claims, which would lead to higher premiums,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a liberal consumer health care advocacy nonprofit. “By having a more balanced pool that includes a significant number of people who are young adults and who are healthy, that helps to keep premiums down.”

At this point, only 25 percent of those enrolled fall into that younger age group, putting pressure on the administration to focus on getting their message out to young adults.


“Outreach through comedy and social media certainly opens a door with young people,” said Jessica Barba Brown, a spokeswoman for Enroll America, a liberal nonprofit that helps Americans enroll in health insurance. “It gets their attention. It brings them into the conversation.”

The Funny or Die video seems to have done just that. Traffic on the website increased by 40 percent from March 10 to March 11, the day the video was posted, White House spokeswoman Tara McGuinness said on Twitter.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday the video was the “No. 1” referral of traffic to the federal health care exchange website that day. He defended Obama’s appearance in response to questions about how much the interview “damaged” the president’s reputation.

“The video itself was causing the action that we hoped it would cause, which is getting folks to go to and look at the options available to them and hopefully enroll,” Carney told reporters at a news briefing.


Enrollment has fallen significantly behind the initial projected targets, which were outlined in a September memo from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. As of March 1, more than 1.4 million fewer people had enrolled than were projected in the September memo.

In February, the Congressional Budget Office released a lower projection of 6 million enrolled by the end of March, but current rate of enrollment will still have to increase in order to reach that number.

However, Barba Brown said she anticipates enrollment will pick up significantly.

“We always expected for the majority of sign ups to happen within this last month,” she said. “Most people, especially young people tend to wait until that last minute to sign up for things.”

Patty Fontneau, director of Colorado’s state-based health care exchange, said young people who were signing up on the Connect for Health Colorado exchange were more likely to put off enrolling until closer to the deadline. She said she expects to see the proportion of young adults enrolling to increase in the last month.

“They are coming to the table as a greater percentage later in the game,” Fontneau said during a news teleconference Thursday.


Even if the final enrollment number falls below projections, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius testified Wednesday before the House Ways and Means Committee that she will still consider the final enrollment numbers a success.

“Success looks like millions of people with affordable health coverage,” Sebelius said, “which we will have by the end of March.”