- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Falling behind in his race to enroll young people in Obamacare, President Obama is showing his willingness to try anything to get their attention at the last minute, including an awkward comedy sketch and a pitch by a pop music star that went wrong Wednesday.

The salesman in chief’s pitch for his health care law in a “Funny or Die” video with actor Zach Galifianakis had amassed more than 12 million views by noon Wednesday, less than 36 hours after its release. White House officials said the video drove a 40 percent increase in traffic to the HealthCare.gov website Tuesday.

Pop star Lance Bass visited the White House on Wednesday and tried to help promote Obamacare, but the former ‘N Sync member tweeted out the wrong website address. Mr. Bass tweeted a photo of himself outside the White House and urged Americans to visit “HealthCare.org” instead of HealthCare.gov. The tweet was deleted shortly after it was posted.

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Mr. Bass later lashed out at people who criticized him, writing on Twitter: “Grow up people! A handful of private citizens were invited to talk about Health Care. I have questions just like you — and I brought in several that my fans have brought up. I’m not writing any laws here. Don’t hate because I’m trying to get educated. And I friggin messed up the website. Ugh. It’s healthcare.gov!!”

Critics questioned whether Mr. Obama was minimizing the presidency by taking part in a video spoof in which he traded sarcastic barbs with Mr. Galifianakis about Hulk Hogan becoming a U.S. envoy to Syria and vowing not to let the actor anywhere near first lady Michelle Obama.

Roger Friedman of the online Hollywood publication Showbiz 411 said Mr. Obama, who could be seen relying frequently on a teleprompter off camera for his cues, appeared “less presidential than Richard Nixon saying ‘Sock it to me’ on ‘Laugh In.’” An ABC News reporter questioned whether Mr. Obama’s aides had discussed “the dignity of the office” before agreeing to record the video.

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Said Republican strategist John Feehery, “The Obama folks have always been creative in messaging to young people, and sometimes that creativity might look a little desperate.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney has defended the video, saying Mr. Obama’s aides are constantly looking for “different ways to reach Americans” who don’t get their information from evening news broadcasts or newspapers.

But conservatives have heaped criticism on Mr. Obama for the interview with Funny or Die’s “Between Two Ferns,” and Fox News host Bill O’Reilly was no exception.

“The Affordable [Care] Act is dubious to say the least, and using a comedic website to enroll people is a little bit desperate, don’t you think?” he said on his show Tuesday. “There comes a point when serious times call for serious action.”

“Between Two Ferns” director Scott Aukerman argued that he doesn’t see a difference between his show and Mr. O’Reilly’s.

“Bill O’Reilly is used to saying kind of stupid things to get attention. There’s not much of a difference between the president appearing on ‘Between Two Ferns’ and appearing on ‘The O’Reilly Factor,’” he told Slate. “The difference is that we admit we’re a comedy show.”

The urgency of Mr. Obama’s effort to attract younger people was brought into sharper focus this week when administration officials said 4.2 million people had signed up for Obamacare through February, just 60 percent of the goal of 7 million sign-ups by March 31.

Through February, 1.08 million young adults signed up for Obamacare, just 25 percent of the total enrollment. The administration is hoping that one-third of all enrollees will be the “invincibles,” healthy young adults who would pay premiums but not use much medical care and thus pay for older, less-healthy people in the program.

Statistics published by Obamacare marketplaces in seven states show that 21 percent of enrollees haven’t paid for the insurance. If that percentage were applied to the nationwide market, it would mean that 1.1 million people have signed up for health insurance without paying for it.

The consulting firm Avalere Health predicted Wednesday that 1.2 million people will sign up for Obamacare this month, bringing the total to 5.4 million, paid or not.

“The administration is conducting aggressive outreach in March in an effort to boost enrollment,” Caroline Pearson, vice president of Avalere Health, said in a statement. “However, success of exchanges in 2014 will depend less on the size of the market and more on the risk profile of enrollees.”

Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.

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