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Obamacare Allies Lure Young Folks As Deadline Nears

Student support, without a doubt, carried Barack Obama to the White House. Now as the President's trademark healthcare expansion eyes a key deadline, he is seeking their help yet again.

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With registration for President Obama's Affordable Care Act due Monday, the White House has summoned stars from sports and entertainment. Over the past month, Obama has called into Ryan Seacrest's syndicated radio show, won support from NBA greats Lebron James, Magic Johnson and Alonso Mourning, made a "16 Reasons To Get Covered" March Madness bracket and appeared on "Between Two Ferns," comedian Zach Galifianakis' online talk show parody. The video, posted on humor site FunnyOrDie.com, has collected over 20 million views since its release March 11.

College campuses are encouraging students not on a parents' or university health plan to register as well. University health centers have posted fliers on hallways and dormitory walls. Student activists have held university-based forums, welcoming questions from classmates, even faculty, about the law's offerings.

Efforts to register youth under the Affordable Care Act accompany notions that younger, healthier enrollees will determine the law's success. The White House estimates that, to stabilize the healthcare program, 40% of those registered should be under 35 years old. Statistics gathered earlier this year tallies young A.C.A. participants at some 25%, well below government expectations.

The Obama administration believes the final days of registration — which, for many students, coincides with the end of midterm exams — will prompt more youth enrollment. University healthcare activists agree that, despite stereotypes that young people feel invincible, many college students will sign up for the program.

"Students know they wouldn't wait to get into a car accident to buy car insurance," said Jenny Haubenreiser, former president of the American College Health Association. "Many of them see healthcare the same way, and they're promoting that message incredibly."

But many students claim to know little of the President's healthcare law. A Gallup poll from December suggests Americans under age 30 are less familiar with the A.C.A. than other age groups. Only 63% of younger survey participants said they understand the law, compared to 75% of older Americans.

The law's provisions, and the conditions surrounding it, have furthered student confusion. The plan comes with a $6,000 deductible, considerably higher than those for employer- or university-based coverage. Younger people from low-income families can consider Medicaid, a state-sanctioned plan, though they may face trouble; only about half of the states have agreed to expand Medicaid eligibility. Informing students about the law, for all its intricacies, seems more necessary than ever.

"College health centers are rising to answer students, so many of whom value their health, whether it be birth control, substance abuse or mental health," Haubenreiser said. "The students I talk to get it, that they need some model of healthcare."

Student Democrats hope education will lead more classmates to register for the healthcare plan. Representatives from universities nationwide have written op-eds in college newspapers and held on-campus sessions promoting youth registration.

"Three million young people can get health insurance who couldn't get it before," said Taylor Barnard, national president of the College Democrats of America. "The goal is to get them to enroll."

Grassroots registration efforts, along with Obama's own pushes, will seek attention well into Monday's deadline. Barnard believes White House promotions, no matter how silly, have succeeded so far in reaching student bodies.

"Appearances like 'Between Two Ferns' are great alternatives to target youth who aren't necessarily reading Politico every single day," he added.

Many Republicans dismiss the President's cameos, endorsements and March Madness brackets as ploys aimed more at popularity than economics. They note Obama's dipped approval ratings among Americans between ages 18 and 29. A Gallup poll taken the week of March 17 places Obama with 53% of the demographic's approval, compared to 64% in January.

A tweet from Rep. Randy Weber, a Republican representing Texas' 14th Congressional District, posted hours after "Between Two Ferns" hit the web:

But for a President who campaigned largely to young people on the basis healthcare reform, even adapting the once-critical term "Obamacare" as his own, his personal advocacy to the law — and his goal to make young voters laugh — should be no surprise.

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