WH Defends Comedian's Mockery of President, As Latest Obamacare Enrollment Fall Short

By Susan Jones | March 12, 2014 | 7:03 AM EDT

President Obama sells health care "Between Two Ferns" on the "Funny or Die" website. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - White House Spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that the White House is confident that many more Americans, including young Americans, will sign up for Obamacare before the open enrollment period ends on March 31.

"And you know, we're confident in this final month of the open enrollment period that a lot of Americans are going to sign up and that a lot of young Americans are going to sign up. We saw that in earlier numbers...that the growth in enrollments is substantial in the 18-to-34 age category. And we expect that to continue."

Carney said that's why President Obama agreed to do an interview with "Hangover" comedian Zach Galifianakis: Obama "knew that there would be an opportunity to talk about healthcare.gov" on the "Funny or Die" website -- "and that's why he was doing it."

Obama knew "sort of loosely what the interview might look like," Carney added, "but there's a lot of ad-libbing in there." Carney said the interview did not undermine the dignity of the office, even though the interviewer is known for asking awkward questions that put his guests on the spot. (Among other things, Zach Galifianakis called Obama a "nerd" and asked him how it feels to be "the last black president," as a somewhat stilted Obama played along.)

After Carney's daily briefing on Tuesday, the Health and Human Services Department reported that enrollment in the health insurance marketplace "continued to rise in February to a five-month total of 4.2 million."

For the month of February, about 943,000 people enrolled in plans available through the Health Insurance Marketplace, but as the Associated Press noted, that number falls short of the target of 1.27 million that HHS had initially set for the month. It's also less than the January enrollment of 1.146 million.

The White House "needs something close to a miracle to meet its goal of enrolling 6 million people by the end of this month," the AP noted.

And for all the taxpayers out there, HHS said 83 percent of those who have selected a plan so far are eligible to receive financial assistance.

Other sign-up stats:

Of the 4,242,300 people who selected Marketplace plans from Oct. 1, 2013 through March 1, 2014:

-- 55 percent are female and 45 percent are male;
-- 31 percent are age 34 and under;
-- 25 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34;
-- 63 percent selected a Silver plan; 18 percent selected a Bronze plan.

“Over 4.2 million Americans have signed up for affordable plans through the Marketplace,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a news release. “Now, during this final month of open enrollment, our message to the American people is this: you still have time to get covered, but you’ll want to sign up today – the deadline is March 31st.”

Notably, HHS officials admitted they still don't know how many Obamacare enrollees already had insurance before going into the exchanges; nor do they know how many enrollees have actually paid for the plans they've signed up for.

'Funny or Die'

President Obama continues to push the big-government program that bears his name, most recently on "Funny or Die," a website known mainly to young people.

Obama's conversation with confrontational comedian Zach Galifianakis -- star of the "Hangover" franchise -- was designed to reach Americans where they live," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Tuesday. "And you know, they watch this show in huge numbers. I think the average video gets something like 6 million views. I'm convinced we're going to break that average. And in fact -- and as I was walking out here, I think we were close to 3 million. And that's a good thing."

Carney said "Funny or Die" was the "number one referral to healthcare.gov as of late Tuesday morning." And in a swipe at the mainstream media he was addressing, Carney said the days are gone "when your network -- or yours or yours -- can reach everybody that we need to reach."

"So you bring in Zach Galifianakis and all your problems are solved?" a reporter asked Carney.

"No, I didn't say that," Carney responded. He said the White House is using a "multifaceted" approach to spreading the word about Obamacare, and putting Obama on a show where he was mocked "was one of them."

"This is part of an effort to enroll as many people as we can before the open enrollment period. You'll obviously judge very critically, when the time comes, how we've done in that effort, as you have all along," Carney said.

Asked if there was much discussion about abusing "the dignity of the office," Carney said it's "safe to say" this was unlike any interview done by a sitting president.

"Look, we're constantly looking at different ways to reach Americans who don't necessarily get information about healthcare.gov from evening news broadcasts or from the newspapers, but who might either, you know, watch the town hall we did last week with Spanish-language networks or watch "Funny or Die" or watch, you know, some of the other things we've done..."

Asked again if the interview was damaging or undignified, Carney said "no." "I think we made the right call here."

Carney said President Obama "knew that there would be an opportunity to talk about healthcare.gov -- "and that's why he was doing it." Obama knew "sort of loosely what the interview might look like," he added, "but there's a lot of ad-libbing in there."