When the history of the Obama era is written, there's a chance — a tiny, dumb chance — that Zach Galifianakis' made-up, obnoxious not-on-TV TV show will merit a footnote.
The once-unlikely series of events that would lead to that distinction would go like this:
- The Affordable Care Act is President Obama's signature policy and primary legislative accomplishment.
- The law's goal is to make health care more affordable to more people by changing the composition of the pool of people who are insured — meaning getting more healthy people paying premiums and using fewer services. Young people tend to be healthy people.
- The crummy roll-out of Healthcare.gov delayed the push to get young people to sign up, meaning that older people have been overrepresented.
- So the administration reaches out to Galifianakis, and books an appearance on Between Two Ferns. It is well-received, mostly.
In the dream scenario for Obama, it then progresses like this:
- Enrollments spike as young people learn more about the program.
- Insurers are happy with the pool of people. The system quickly becomes economically stable. Millions of Americans gain insurance.
- Obamacare becomes a staple of the social safety net, a sacrosanct public system akin to Medicare.
- Obama's presidency escapes the Jimmy Carter legacy.
As of writing, the video has been viewed 5.4 million times — a number that increased by 500,000 since I started writing this post. Prominent on the Funny or Die webpage is a link to Healthcare.gov. So did that get us to Step 5?
The "number one source of referrals" simply means that no site is driving people to Healthcare.gov more than the comedy site. What normally drives the most traffic to the site isn't clear, but normally the site doesn't have a hit video throwing people its way. So, in other words, maybe the No. 2 site pushing traffic is only giving it a few hundred visitors.
The Wire reached out to the Department of Health and Human Services and hasn't yet heard back about what those numbers actually mean. (HHS is notoriously stingy with that data.) We didn't hear back, but the Weekly Standard's John McCormack has a figure from an Obama administration call: 19,000 people who watched the video went through to Healthcare.gov. That's not very much.
Update, 5:30 p.m.: LeFurgy, now a general partner at Archer Advisors, thought the click-through rate was "pretty good" — for an ad. (We assumed the 19,000 clicks came when the video had 5 million views, or a click-through of about 0.38 percent.)
But LeFurgy thought this should be compared to branded content, not web advertising. "I don't think this thing was super optimized for driving traffic to Healthcare.gov," LeFurgy told me by phone, "in terms of the link and having it as a mention within the context of the video." After all, "it's the President of the United States for Pete's sake! You'd want to see a significant amount of traffic." Instead, he called the number of clicks "reasonable" — but that the really important thing was the conversion rate, how many people actually signed up for plans. For that data, we'll have to wait and see.
Curious, we also reached out to one of the state exchanges, Covered California to see if it had received more traffic. (If someone tries to sign up at Healthcare.gov and lives in a state with its own exchange, they're redirected.) No word from them either.
So did more people enroll? We're left with anecdotal evidence.
- Sign it worked: "obama was pretty great on between two ferns. and it actually kinda worked cuz now i know the cutoff date for health insurance. double lol." – nate cole on Twitter
- Sign it sort of worked: "That between two ferns skit makes me want some affordable government health insurance even though I already have better health insurance." – Evan kosowski on Twitter
- Sign it maybe didn't work: "Obama on Between Two Ferns really puts a fresh, hip spin on making the actuarial tables better for the insurance companies!" – tweenhobo on Twitter
This afternoon, the Obama administration released new numbers on Obamacare enrollments. They were "weaker than expected," with the percentage of people in the 18-34 age range "holding steady at about 25 percent." The original goal was that people in that age group would comprise 34 percent of enrollments.
Meaning that it all still could come down to Zach Galifianakis, maybe. Maybe 19,000 visits every day would make the difference. Maybe they should make Obama Galifianakis' co-host.
Update, 8:30 p.m.: The number of referrals hit 32,000 at 6 p.m. That's a slightly better click-through rate of 0.40 to 0.45 percent.