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Health exchange hopes fake rappers will get young people to sign up for Obamacare

Can a couple of fake rappers convince young people to sign up for health insurance? The Washington Health Benefit Exchange is banking on it, spending millions on a new campaign to reach the so-called "Young Invincibles."

The new campaign features several TV commercials starring a fictitious hip-hop duo conducting humorous interviews with real Washington residents who signed up for health coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder.

The commercials are meant to be both funny and catchy while helping make young people aware of the benefits of health insurance, says Michael Marchand, Director of Communications at the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

"These new ads use humor and pop culture references to get people's attention as well as make a serious message stick," he says.

Dori Monson: "Who is going to find that funny? It's just painful. There's no age that this could possibly be well targeted at." Read: Dori's take

The effort is drawing some criticism from media members including KIRO Radio's Dori Monson, who said it's like a middle-aged person's idea funny. But Marchand says the spots have gotten a great response from young people in focus group testing.

"I think the first thing that when people initially see the ads is they're immediately caught off guard and the reaction is 'What did I just watch?'" Marchand says. "The more people watch them the more they seem to like them and it seems to have almost that Napoleon Dynamite/Anchorman feel to it, and the more you see the movie you realize there's layers to it."

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange is also launching new partnerships with minor league hockey teams and roller derby leagues across the state.

"These are events that are routinely sold out on any given weekend and also are in the sweet spot in our demographic based on the age of the people attending as well as many younger families are attending," Marchand says.

Attracting young people to purchase insurance through the exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act is critical to helping keep costs manageable under Obamacare. It's why Washington state alone is spending approximately $10 million in federal grant money to market health insurance to those between 18-34.

Marchand says the early efforts are already yielding results, with approximately 30 percent of enrollees through Washington Healthplanfinder in the key 18-34 demographic. And he says it's important to remember the campaign is only six months old.

"It's going to take a lot of time for them to basically change their behavior and understand the return on investment on buying health insurance, and that is not something you can turn on a dime in six months."

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