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    Obama 'Funny Or Die' schtick sends thousands to healthcare.gov (SLIDESHOW)

    Look at this spider bite

    When federal officials released the new exchange enrollment numbers, they admitted that the president’s appearance on FunnyOrDie.com drove 19,000 consumers to healthcare.gov to look for coverage. During his interview with comedian Zach Galifianakis, Obama threw in a few humorous flourishes and plugged the health insurance exchanges, inspiring video viewers to click through to healthcare.gov.

    Officials noted more than 4.2 million people have now selected a private health plan through the federal or state-operated sites, but repeatedly refused to say if they had a target number of enrollments in mind. March 31 is the hard deadline for open enrollment, and by law, cannot be extended.

    J.B. Silvers, PhD, professor of finance at Case Western Reserve University, says the historic experience in Massachusetts shows about 15% of total exchange enrollments happen in the final month. Extrapolated to today’s exchanges, numbers could reach about 5 million, he says.

    “Although you never know what will happen, with the president on [Funny Or Die],” he says. “That was terrible. I couldn’t believe it.”

    The Real Test

    Silvers says the real test will be whether more uninsured enroll in coverage and whether exchanges create competitive markets as envisioned.

    For example, MetroHealth Plus, a health plan in Ohio that targets the newly eligible under the state’s Medicaid expansion, has seen a surge of enrollment.

    “We had about 29,000 enroll through MetroHealth Plus who are exactly the expansion group in Medicaid, and they just enrolled through the normal process,” he says. “Those are people that are working poor that didn’t have any insurance.”

    Silvers says nationwide, there are still another 4 million or so potential enrollees who could show up in the next few weeks of open enrollment or—if they’re Medicaid eligible—could show up over the balance of 2014.

    “They’ve got a lot of potential yet to enroll,” he says.

    But the Achilles’ heel is a question that might be answered in 2015: Are the exchanges competitive marketplaces? Some states have few carriers, and several large national insurers have limited their participation in exchanges. For example, in August 2013, Aetna withdrew its applications for exchanges in Connecticut, Georgia and Maryland.

    “If insurers can’t make it because of enrollment patterns, then we’ve got major troubles,” Silvers says. “But I’m not too worried about it.”

    In general, health insurance company stocks have done well, and profit forecasts are steady. He believes Wall Street has spoken, and the news is positive overall for insurers.

    NEXT: The slideshow >>>



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