Health Care

To Counter Obamacare Slowdown, Obama Tries Comedy


UPDATED AT 5PM | The White House still expects a surge of enrollment in health plans ahead of the March 31 deadline for uninsured Americans to sign up, even as officials announced Tuesday afternoon that fewer people had enrolled in February than the months before.

About 943,000 people got health plans through healthcare.gov and state exchanges last month, fewer than in January or December but enough to push total enrollment to 4.2 million (PDF) so far.

The pace of enrollment actually looks brighter accounting for the dates included in the White House reporting. The January numbers count enrollment from Dec. 29 to Feb. 1, a 35-day period, while the report released for last month covers a 28-day period from Feb. 2 through March 1. The first period saw people signing up at an average rate of 32,745 per day, with a slight increased to 33,673 per day in period covering most of February.

Most people signing up are over age 35. The mix hasn’t changed much since the fall, although a slightly higher proportion of young adults enrolled in January and February.

If the White House wants to boost enrollment among young adults, President Obama’s self-deprecating turn on the comedy website Funny or Die on Tuesday appears to be paying off. The video, in which the president is interviewed and insulted by comedian Zach Galifianakis on a satirical talk show called “Between Two Ferns, was the largest source of referral traffic to healthcare.gov as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Obama spent a chunk of the six-minute interview talking about signing up for health coverage, and “19,000 people who watched the video actually then took an action to click onto healthcare.gov and seek more information,” she told reporters.

And here’s how each state stacks up so far:

Administration officials still refused to release any information on how many people who have enrolled have actually paid their premiums and how many were previously uninsured. No answers came this afternoon to reporters’ questions about whether officials still expect to meet the 6 million enrollment mark that the Congressional Budget Office forecast for the first year. To get there, the exchanges would need to enroll another 1.8 million people. That’s not out of the question: nearly that many people signed up in December after major repairs to healthcare.gov.

The website’s call center has added 2,000 workers to bring the total to 14,000, including 800 fluent in Spanish, Bataille said, and online capacity has also been bolstered. “We are busy preparing to handle an anticipated surge in enrollment as we approach the end of March,” she said.

John_tozzi
Tozzi is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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