WASHINGTON — A coalition of presidential campaign veterans, healthcare companies and community activists will kick off a months-long push on Sunday to prepare millions of Americans to sign up for insurance this fall under President Obama’s healthcare law.
The multimillion-dollar campaign — called “Get Covered America” — will build on the kind of grass-roots organizing and targeted advertising that were critical to Obama’s reelection.
This time, the stakes may be almost as high. The fate of the president’s signature 2010 health law hinges largely on successfully enrolling uninsured Americans in health plans, even as Republicans continue to try to block the law in Washington and in state Capitols.
“We know it’s a big task,” acknowledged Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America, the nonprofit formed to lead the effort. She said that most of the uninsured — 78%, according to the organization’s most recent survey — “don’t know about this new opportunity.”
Filipic said the group, which plans to hire about 200 people and engage thousands of volunteers in coming months, will work to raise awareness through a broad range of activities, including door-to-door outreach, tables at community events such as farmers markets, and personal appeals at churches and other community institutions.
The group is also working with hospitals, health clinics and physicians groups to train medical professionals to educate patients about enrolling in health insurance. For example, Doctors for America, a nonprofit that pressed Congress to pass the healthcare law, is training 500 doctors and medical students, according to executive director Dr. Alice Chen.
Americans who don’t get health benefits through their employer are supposed to be able to start shopping for health insurance on new Internet-based marketplaces, or exchanges, in each state on Oct. 1. The coverage takes effect at the beginning of next year.
The health insurance plans for the first time will have to offer a basic set of benefits and will not be able to turn away consumers even if they are sick.
Those making less than four times the federal poverty line — or about $46,000 for a single person — will qualify for federal subsidies to offset the cost of their premiums.
The new health law will require most Americans to get health coverage or pay a small fine next year — $95 for most people. But polls show widespread ignorance about the law’s benefits and requirements.
Obama administration officials say they hope initially to enroll 7 million people who are uninsured or who already buy individual health insurance policies. About 2.7 million need to be between the ages of 18 and 34 to balance the higher cost of older consumers who are expected to be more eager to sign up for health coverage, officials said.
Eventually, about 25 million people are expected to buy insurance through the state exchanges. Millions more Americans who are very poor will be covered by an expansion of some state Medicaid programs. More than 50 million people now lack health coverage.
Officials have come up with a target audience for their campaign: young, healthy people, more than half of whom are minorities and women. About one-third live in California, Texas or Florida. In California, 48% are Latino and 15% speak Spanish.
Enroll America is already working in key states where state officials have fought the law, such Texas, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. That resistance has put an added burden on the Obama administration and the law’s supporters to reach out to potential customers.
Later this year, Filipic said, Enroll America will start a paid media campaign.
Filipic, a former White House official who worked on Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, would not say how much the group plans to spend on the outreach effort or what many of the group’s corporate partners will do to assist. An official with Enroll America later said the budget would be “in the tens of millions” of dollars.
Enroll America’s funding has come under fire from congressional Republicans who have charged that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius inappropriately sought donations. Sebelius has acknowledged she asked for money from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and tax preparer H &R Block, but said she did not solicit any companies that are regulated by the agency.
[For the Record, 7:31 a.m. PST June 20: This post previously reported that Doctors for America is training 100 doctors and medical students to educate patients about how to sign up for health coverage. The group is actually training 500 doctors and medical students.]