CHICAGO (AP) — A nonprofit group helping to spread the word about President Barack Obama's health care overhaul launched a campaign Tuesday that will target states with high numbers of uninsured Americans and tackle their skepticism with straightforward messages.
The "Get Covered America" campaign will include door-to-door visits by volunteers, brochures handed out at farmers markets and churches and, possibly, partnerships with sports leagues and celebrities, said Anne Filipic, a former White House official who recently became president of Enroll America, the group sponsoring the campaign.
The group's research shows 78 percent of uninsured adults don't know about opportunities that will be available to them in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act, Filipic said Tuesday during a phone call with reporters. The campaign is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars, including a seven-figure media ad buy.
"If they don't know about it, then they won't enroll," Filipic said. "We've done our research. We know people want to know what the law means for them in a 'just the facts' sort of way."
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has drawn criticism from Republicans for making fundraising calls for Enroll America. Earlier this month, Sebelius told members of Congress she made five phone calls for Enroll America, two of which involved actual fundraising solicitations, to Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and H&R Block, entities not regulated by HHS.
She also called three health care companies to "suggest that the entities take a look at the organization (Enroll America)" but did not make a fundraising solicitation to those three. They were Johnson & Johnson, Ascension Health and Kaiser Permanente.
Sebelius said the HHS secretary has the legal authority to raise money for initiatives that support government health programs.
The federal government itself will spend millions on marketing and advertising about the health law, but the spending will vary greatly across the nation because some Republican-led states haven't sought federal dollars for ad campaigns.
Enroll America's campaign will start with 50 events in 18 states, Filipic said. The group has staff on the ground in eight states, including Texas and Florida and others where government officials have resisted key parts of Obama's health law such as the expansion of Medicaid.
"We know that most of the uninsured don't know about the new coverage options coming this fall, let alone whether or not their state is expanding Medicaid," Filipic said. "Many of the uninsured are eligible for Medicaid today but have not enrolled, and those who are not eligible for Medicaid may qualify for coverage through the marketplace."
Obama's national health law requires that nearly all Americans have health insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a penalty. New insurance marketplaces are scheduled to be operating in every state by Oct. 1. People who are uninsured will be able to comparison-shop for affordable health plans on these websites and many will qualify for tax credits to help them pay for coverage.
The organization is building a predictive model to determine where to target the uninsured and will track which of its tactics are most effective, Filipic said.
"We're going to be doing a lot of testing to see what works," she said. "What moves someone to attend an event or call a phone number? We'll be doing a lot of work to test and analyze that."
In a parallel effort, a group called Doctors for America plans to host training sessions for doctors and print posters and brochures for medical waiting rooms.
Skepticism about the law's benefits is widespread. Enroll America's January survey of 1,814 adults found that most people are skeptical they'll be able to find affordable health insurance that covers their needs. When presented with a specific premium amount they might pay, less than a third of respondents felt that the premium was in the affordable range.
"Survey results suggest using a specific premium amount may actually turn away just as many people as it might motivate," according to the survey report on Enroll America's website.
Broader statements — such as "You might be able to get financial help to pay for a health insurance plan" and "If you have a pre-existing condition, insurance plans cannot deny you coverage" — tested better with the survey group.
Enroll America has staff on ground in Texas, Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. It soon will add staff in Illinois and Georgia.
Kicking off the campaign this week, the Get Covered America team and its community partners plan to host more than 50 events in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.
AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/CarlaKJohnson
AP Writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report from Washington.