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Maryland to launch ad campaign for health insurance marketplace

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Marylanders, with the help of a catchy jingle and the Baltimore Ravens, will urge residents to sign up for new health insurance coverage available through federal reforms in an advertising campaign launching this month, health officials said Tuesday.

Television, radio, online and print ads featuring the faces and voices of state residents who plan to sign up for coverage will soon proliferate in the state, including in prime spots during Ravens broadcasts and eventually billboard and transit ads. Health officials are preparing to open the Maryland Health Connection, the state's new insurance marketplace, in less than a month.

The marketing is key in getting more people insured and eventually lowering health care costs in Maryland, officials said. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Rep. Elijah Cummings and health officials said they expected the ads to be an efficient and effective method to educate state residents about the opportunities in a way that grabs their attention and is understandable.

"Most people know there is major health reform going on," said Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat. "They do not know the details of signing up."

The state is spending $2.5 million on the campaign through the end of 2014, and hopes to attract nearly 300,000 people to buy health insurance or sign up for expanded government coverage over that time.

About 800,000 people are estimated to be without health insurance in the state, but starting Jan. 1 will be able to buy insurance through Maryland Health Connection, potentially qualifying for new subsidies or expanded Medicaid eligibility.

In the television ads, some of those residents are featured. In researching Marylanders' perceptions of health reform, officials found that many were eager to take advantage of the changes and would be the best messengers, said Rebecca Pearce, executive director of the state's insurance exchange.

Officials also opted to put the message in song because "people go to music when they want to feel comforted and at home," Pearce said.

"Get your coverage online; that's peace of mind," the radio and TV jingle goes. "Gotta have it, gonna get it; convenience I love at MarylandHealthConnection.gov."

At the website, state residents will be able to determine their eligibility for subsidies or Medicaid and shop for and compare health plans to be offered on the insurance exchange. The Maryland Health Connection opens for enrollment in health plans starting Oct. 1, for coverage that becomes effective Jan. 1, the date the health reform law takes effect.

Through a partnership with the Ravens, the ads will be featured during pre-game coverage on WBAL-TV and game broadcasts on local radio, aired on WBAL and 98 Rock. Other partnerships with retailers like Giant and CVS will make information about insurance enrollment available across the state. The retailers will also hold informational events.

Display ads will tell viewers messages like "$0 or low-cost health coverage is now within your reach" or "Finding health coverage is now a painless at-home procedure."

Officials said while the ads don't specifically mention the Affordable Care Act, the federal health reform law passed in 2010, the important message is how residents can connect to more resources.

"We're going to speak directly to Marylanders," said Brown, a Democrat who is running for governor in 2014. "We want Marylanders to know these health plans will provide free preventative care," among other services.

Cummings added that the campaign also could cut through confusion that could arise from efforts by Republicans in Congress to repeal the health reform law or cut its budget.

"It's one thing for Congress to create a law," Cummings said. "It's another thing for us to get the word out to the people when there are 40 votes in the Congress to destroy it."

Republicans, including Rep. Andy Harris of the Eastern Shore, have argued the law will lead to higher prices and fewer choices for consumers.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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