Wis. gets little ad help for new health care law

Dinesh Ramde, Associated Press
July 24, 2013

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- The federal government is spending less money in Wisconsin per capita to advertise the new health care law than it is in any other state.

The government plans to spend at least $684 million nationally on publicity and advertising, according to an Associated Press analysis. But Gov. Scott Walker has declined to cooperate with implementation of the new program, instead ceding that responsibility to the federal government. Wisconsin is getting $2.6 million in federal outreach grants — but nothing for marketing and advertising.

National surveys show that more than three-fourths of uninsured people know little about the new health care law. So states and the Obama administration are trying to educate them before enrollment for new benefits begins in October.

Nearly 560,000 Wisconsin residents, or 10 percent of the state population, are uninsured.

Claire Smith, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said the state could have applied for grant funding that would have included outreach and communication if it had implemented a state-based exchange, or online marketplace. Instead Wisconsin is leaving it up to the federal government to set up the exchanges and get out the word about them.

The only grants Wisconsin has received include $830,000 in so-called navigator grants and $1.8 million for health centers.

Navigator programs, which are run by community groups, are intended to help consumers understand new coverage options and figure out which is best for them. The $1.8 million is being divided among 16 health centers across the state that serve the poor.

The total funding means the government is spending about 46 cents per Wisconsin resident, the lowest per-capita spending rate in the U.S. The national average is $2.37.

Other states will be using their money to buy ads on radio, TV and social media. Since Wisconsin doesn't have as extensive an outreach campaign, some residents could remain in the dark about options open to them.

But Steve Brenton, the president of the Wisconsin Hospital Association, wasn't too worried. He predicted that enough groups would be reaching out to eligible populations that outreach wouldn't be a problem.

"Are we concerned? A little bit. But my sense is there's going to be a lot of publicity out there from community organizations, hospitals and health organizations," he said. "I think you'll see plenty of reach-out activity beginning in September through the enrollment period."

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Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde@ap.org.