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Signing Up Uninsured for Health Care a Big Challenge

Enroll America hopes to build a list of potentially uninsured people, Filipic said. The organization will first target areas that have high rates of uninsurance, such as parts of Texas and Florida. Then it will use marketing and demographic data to zero in on folks who fit the profile of the uninsured, including lower-income people. The group plans to run surveys to further identify people who might be uninsured and could benefit from direct contact or information left in neighborhood shops, Filipic said.

She said she wants to explore ways that health care industry officials in the coalition might provide information to guide the group’s efforts to narrow the list of people who might be uninsured, although the group will be careful to avoid violating privacy laws.

Other groups are targeting young people with tactics that worked in the past. Calling on sports heroes is a popular technique. When Massachusetts expanded coverage, the state persuaded the 2006 Boston Red Sox to tout the new benefits. The Maryland advocacy group Health Care for All has used Ravens and Redskins players to promote Medicaid coverage, and an official said they will work together again. Vermont wants to deputize hockey players.

One question is whether federal officials are doing enough now to prepare for a publicity campaign later this summer and fall. The timing is tricky because government officials can’t yet give the public specific details such as what the coverage will cost, which insurance companies will offer benefits or which doctors will participate.

Without those details, consumers who hear about the coverage could become confused or frustrated. Marilyn Tavenner, acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said recently that outreach will really begin in July.

“It’s a very busy year, and I think we have all of the steps in place to get it done,” Tavenner told the Federation of American Hospitals at its conference. “But we are going to need your help.”

When CMS officials were preparing in 2005 to launch the comprehensive Medicare drug benefit the following year, then-administrator Mark McClellan and other officials traveled around the country in the spring to persuade local groups to help with enrollment. In June 2005, the officials began a bus tour to raise public awareness.

The drug benefit implementation was a big endeavor, but the current rollout is clearly more complex.

“You can never do enough,” McClellan said. “Even with clear deadlines and a lot of enrollment support, there will be a lot of people who just don’t get around to signing up. The more that can be done early, the better. From that standpoint, because it is such a challenge, there is definitely more to be done.”

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