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White House finds the funny in 'Obamacare' pitch to youth

A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled "The Impact of Obamacare", at a "Food for Free Minds Tea Party Rally" in Littleton, New Ham
A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled "The Impact of Obamacare", at a "Food for Free Minds Tea Party Rally" in Littleton, New Ham

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - What's so funny about President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law?

A website known for viral comedy videos popular with Americans under 30 - Funny or Die - has a few ideas and is enlisting celebrities to make something that catches the attention of a key demographic the White House needs to sign up for Obamacare.

"I think you can kind of have fun with some of the misinformation that's out there," said Mike Farah, president of production for Funny or Die.

Farah was part of a small group of Hollywood stars and entertainers who met with senior White House officials on Monday to talk about how to use pop culture to persuade young Americans to sign up for new medical insurance coverage this fall.

For Obamacare to succeed, the White House needs to attract 2.7 million younger consumers between the ages of 18 to 35, mostly male and non-white, to participate in new online health insurance exchanges.

Obama dropped by the meeting, which included comedian Amy Poehler, actor Jennifer Hudson, representatives for Oprah Winfrey and Alicia Keys and others.

"We see that there's an ability here to actually make an impact and make a change," Farah told Reuters after the meeting with Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and other officials involved in rolling out the program.

Funny or Die has more than 19 million unique users per month and 6.4 million Twitter followers and is already working on several videos featuring celebrities.

Obamacare needs young, healthy people to register for the new health insurance plans to counterbalance older, sicker enrollees and hold down costs.

But first the government needs to overcome skepticism that the new plans are worthwhile.

The government isn't paying for the help. "If there was ever any money for Funny or Die - which there never was - I'm sure it would have been cut by the sequester long ago," Farah quipped.

Earlier this year, the administration sought help from major U.S. sports organizations including the National Football League on advertising campaigns.

But the NFL backed off after U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell wrote the league and other professional sports organizations urging them not to support Obamacare, warning them it was too political.

Farah said he is not worried about any backlash.

"If Republican senators have enough time to write Funny or Die a letter telling us not to be a part of this, then we're doing something right," he said.

"I would love that, and I can't wait to frame it and put it up in my office."

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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