It's Obamacare Night Live!

It's hard to make health insurance funny. Even with celebrities involved.

Comedian Billy Eichner has gained fame from an online video series in which he manically races around New York City and accosts strangers with inane questions. ("What's your favorite Christmas carol?!" he demands of one elderly tourist). His newest video features another one of these zany, rapid-fire interrogations, but the content seems a little less pop-culture and a little more PBS.

“Ok, I'm going to give you a fact, and if you think that fact is about Obamacare, say, 'Obamacare!' And if it's not related to Obamacare, you say, 'Shut up!'” he squawks to Olivia Wilde. “Away we go ... preventative care is now free!”

“Obamacare!” she responds excitedly.

The video is part of the new “Tell a friend, get covered” ad campaign created by Covered California, one of the 16 state-based exchanges that is getting federal funds to advertise the Affordable Care Act.

Covered California

Since launching in December, the group has also put together a Scandal parody with Jennifer Hudson; a series of selfies in which celebrities hold up signs that read, “get covered;” and a video of a Lady Gaga song dubbed over President Obama’s speeches, so that it looks like the president is singing along.

In their newest crusade, today the Get Covered initiative will descend on the YouTube studios in Los Angeles to produce a live, six-hour, Obamacare-themed variety show. It will combine “Saturday Night Live-type skits” with the perfect complement to any comedy routine: educational segments about risk pooling in health insurance markets.

The stars of this ensemble will include MTV host Karli Henriquez, Mixed Martial Arts fighter Adam Ward, and Hannah Hart, star of the YouTube series My Drunk Kitchen, in which Hart cooks while intoxicated. They will all be talking about “why insurance matters to them.” If this sounds like your idea of a dream Thursday, you can watch it all at www.tellafriendgetcovered.com.

This is on top of a national onslaught of new “brosurance” ads geared toward frat boys, as well as airtime the White House has bought during the Winter Olympics in order to promote insurance. The goal of all of these efforts is the same: To get more young people to sign up for Obamacare, for the good of the country—and for insurers’ bottom lines.

“We have one job: to make this marketplace work,” said Covered California’s executive director, Peter Lee, by phone. The goal is to get young people talking. “This is about having a drumbeat of discussion from the most trusted friends you have. While we're using celebs, it's about encouraging friends to tell friends.”

Nearly 2.2 million people signed up for the health insurance exchanges—the new, non-employer-based insurance plans that are available direct to individuals through Healthcare.gov—in the period leading up to Dec. 28. But that’s only about 65 percent of the Obama administration’s goal for signups during that period, which is troubling for a couple of reasons.

One, this is the first time that many sick people have had the option of getting health insurance, because before Obamacare, insurers could discriminate against people with medical problems. It stands to reason that many of the people who have signed up so far are in need of some sort of medical care, i.e., they are sick. However mildly, but they are.

The other problem is that the new enrollees are one-third older people, ages 55 to 65, and only one-quarter younger people, ages 18 to 34. The Obama administration would have preferred for those percentages to be reversed. Health insurers need young people to enroll in order to balance out all the sick people whose medical bills they’ll now be paying. And we need insurers to make enough money so that they don't drive up premiums or pull out of the exchanges altogether. But because insurance companies can’t ask people about their health conditions anymore, the closest proxy they have for health, rightly or wrongly, is youth.

Presented by

Olga Khazan is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers health.

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