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The Department of Health and Human Services is using the tried-and-true tool of dorky social media contests to sell young people on the need to sign up for health insurance under Obamacare. So we tested their latest effort on the nearest young people we could find.

This is not a trivial consideration for the administration. As the launch date for Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges nears, the government is ramping up its outreach to young people, enrolling such crowd-pleasers as Katy Perry to help make the case. As we've reported in the past, getting young people to enroll in the exchanges is key to keeping costs down: by having a large pool of relatively healthy young people paying money each month, the system is more affordable for the less young, less healthy members.

As those with even a passing familiarity with young people probably realize, that's the problem. Young people don't think they need insurance because they're young and healthy. Not to disparage the persuasive powers of Ms. Perry, but the administration has been scrambling to figure out how to convince young folks that bad things can happen to them, too, and they should be prepared. So it teamed up with an advocacy organization to hold a YouTube contest, giving cash prizes to those who made the case the best.

On Thursday, the first winner was announced: Jason Girouard, a freshman at UMass-Amherst. (Girouard is basically a pro at winning such contests; last year, he won an iPad by critiquing drunk driving.)

So how's Girouard's video? See for yourself.

Convincing? Well, the odds are that you're not who he's trying to convince. In order to gauge the response from that demographic, we conducted a highly scientific survey with members of The Atlantic's Fellowship program, seven of whom work here in New York City. (One of the authors of this piece is a participant in the program; she did not participate in the survey because, you know. Science.) Fellows get a salary and insurance coverage, but they are otherwise in the demographic Girouard and Obama are trying to sell.

First we asked how likely each of them would be to sign up for insurance coverage if they weren't in the program, and how much they'd be willing to pay monthly for the plan. Then we showed them Girouard's video, and asked the same question, with answers to the first question given on a scale of 1 to 10. (One data point: Each of the fellows would probably be covered under their parents' insurance anyway, but we asked them to ignore that.)

The results?

On the whole, there was a slight uptick in both the willingness of the fellows to get coverage — from 7.67 of 10 to 8.17 — and an uptick in how much they'd be willing to pay each month — $100 on average to $183. One called the video "pretty compelling"; another declared that "it seems like a good idea to pay less in chunks rather than a huge bill at one time." There you go, Obama. Anecdotal, pseudo-scientific evidence.

With a few exceptions. First, one fellow offered to pay far more after the video than the others ("Hypochondria runs in my family.). Second, the fellows all felt pretty confident that if they weren't working here, they'd be working somewhere else that provided them with insurance, which meant that their initial responses were fairly high to being with. To clarify that after we'd compiled our results, we asked how many of them would sign up for insurance if they lost their positions and knew they would not have coverage for several months. The likelihood plummeted to 4.0 out of 10. One Fellow (of the six) said:

I think it's important to buy it, but I don't think I could really afford a good plan, especially if it was more than $100 a month (plus all the co-pays). I'd almost be willing to take my chances than go into debt just to pay for insurance I might not need, even if I'd be pretty screwed if I got sick/in an accident.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, New York City will be among the most expensive places in the country for those signing up for the exchange who are 25 or so, though subsidies will help. As we noted last week, they'd be better off in Portland, Oregon.

That's really the problem. At the end of the day, the administration needs to convince young people that, as one fellow said, it's "a good idea to pay less in chunks rather than a huge bill at one time." Thinking about it in the abstract, sure, sounds smart. But actually putting money on the line? Less enthusiasm. Not even a semi-amusing YouTube video does much to change their minds on that.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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