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Mubark Addalla learned the hard way why it pays to have health insurance in America.

Addalla, who came here from Sudan, got sick shortly after arriving in Buffalo. He went to the hospital for a few hours and ended up with a $1,300 bill.

He’s still paying it off.

You haven’t lived in the United States long if you haven’t heard a story like this – a brief hospital visit that turns into a financial headache. The experience made health care a priority for Addalla.

“You don’t know when you’re going to get sick,” said Addalla, 25, an Erie Community College student.

Not every 25-year-old shares his eagerness to sign up for insurance.

If they did, President Obama probably wouldn’t have been playing the comedic straight man with actor Zack Galifianakis on “Between Two Ferns.”

The president’s performance on the satirical online talk show was intended to draw attention to the Affordable Care Act as a deadline for coverage approaches. The piece drew laughs. It also drew criticism – most notably from Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who worried that Russian President Vladimir Putin would think the U.S. president was weak for cracking a joke.

O’Reilly – not exactly the demographic Obama was trying to reach – seemed a bit humorless on this.

If you want to reach young viewers, traditional television just isn’t going to cut it. Neither is traditional comedy. The video appeared to make headway toward its goal, racking up more than 15 million views by Friday.

“I think it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be here with you today if I didn’t have something to plug,” Obama said during the fake interview.

The Obama administration needs healthy young adults to sign up for private coverage under the new law to help offset the cost of older patients who are likely to need more health care.

Here’s the quandary. For the same reason insurers need young customers, fewer young people are signing up than older Americans. If they need less care – barring the type of unexpected illness that makes health insurance a wise decision – twenty-somethings are a lot less likely to sacrifice to pay for it.

“Every dollar counts,” said Elizabeth Perry, a 23-year-old Amherst resident who hasn’t yet decided what to do about health insurance between the time she leaves her current job and when she heads to graduate school in the fall.

There’s also the difficulty breaking through the noise on “Obamacare.”

“There’s not much that I’ve heard about it that isn’t negative,” said Matthew Holley, a 21-year-old student still covered under his father’s plan.

Which was, of course, exactly the point of Obama’s “Between Two Ferns” interview. It says more about our current culture that the president needs to resort to a spoof interview to reach Americans than it does about the president’s ability to appear strong in the face of international rivals.

Obama’s appearance got people talking. But will deadpan jokes get more people to sign up for insurance?

I’ll leave you with this conversation with an uninsured 34-year-old graduate student who didn’t want to give his name. The man told me he had seen the president’s staged interview, thought it was just plain awkward and had yet to consider “Obamacare.”

He offered this blunt explanation: “It’s probably a combination of apathy and lethargy.”

email: djgee@buffnews.com