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When Zach met Barack: pitching Obamacare online

U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks welcoming NCAA champion athletes to the South Lawn of the White House in Washington March 10, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks welcoming NCAA champion athletes to the South Lawn of the White House in Washington March 10, 2014

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama took his quest to sign young people up for health insurance to an edgy comedy website on Tuesday, where he traded insults with host Zach Galifianakis while plugging his signature Obamacare health program.

Obama sat for an interview on "Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis," on the Funny or Die website. The actor, who starred in "The Hangover" films, is known for his cringe-inducing banter on the program.

Obama got the chance to urge the youth of America to get health insurance, but not until he'd been subjected to questions like "What is it like to be the last black president?" and "What should be done about North Ikea?"

The administration is stepping up efforts to increase youth participation in Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act.

Youth participation is crucial to the success of the program, but U.S. government data released on Tuesday showed that while the number of people enrolled in private insurance under Obamacare reached 4.2 million, the proportion of adults aged 18-34 remained unchanged from January at 25 percent of total enrollment in private Obamacare plans.

That is well below the 38 percent that administration officials have talked about achieving to give insurers a strong mix of healthier members, whose premium payments help offset the cost of older, sicker policy holders.

Obama's crusade to draw in young people has had help from singers Lady Gaga and John Legend, as well as sports celebrities including former basketball star Magic Johnson.

While Galifianakis, who once told an interviewer "rudeness is hilarious," may have seemed an odd match for the president, the White House was thrilled at his ability to deliver a big audience of young people.

"Very quickly, this video went, you know, viral," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. The segment had already been viewed 3 million times, he added.

The Funny or Die website was the top source of referrals Tuesday to healthcare.gov, the Obamacare website, Carney said.

On "Between Two Ferns," Galifianakis did not dial back his trademark style, calling Obama a nerd and asking him if he was going to put his presidential library in his "home country" of Kenya.

The president appeared to play along gamely and tried to match Galifianakis insult for insult. "When I heard that people actually watch this show, I was pretty surprised," Obama said.

When the president was finally allowed to make his pitch about the benefits of signing up for health insurance, Galifianakis sighed, looked at his watch and said, "Is this what they mean by drones?"

(Reporting By Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Tom Brown)

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