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4:42 pm
Mon July 8, 2013

Insurance Pitch To Young Adults Started In Fenway Park

Originally published on Tue July 9, 2013 11:45 am

The Major League Baseball season is now half over, and some fans are already starting to think about the World Series in October.

October is also a big month for the Obama administration.

That's when millions of Americans can start signing up for new health insurance policies through health exchanges established in each state under the Affordable Care Act.

Polls show most Americans still don't understand how they're supposed to do it. The White House and its state partners are eager to let them know. They're trying to recruit baseball teams and other sports franchises to help.

It worked before.

Back in 2007, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series, sweeping the Colorado Rockies in four games. It's also the year that Massachusetts started requiring nearly all residents to have health insurance — and the Red Sox helped to get the word out about it.

The team let the state set up booths at games to explain the new law to fans, and the Massachusetts Health Connector ran ads during Red Sox broadcasts.

Red Sox fan Amy O'Leary remembers it well. "I think it made sense. People feel like they know the players," she says. "I think that sports teams in general can be messengers of good information to a wide variety of people."

Now that other states are opening health insurance marketplaces, they're trying the same strategy.

"People who care about being healthy, our young adult population, are big watchers of the sports shows, and we know [they] are going to be an important population for us to reach," says Myung Kim, outreach director for Colorado's health insurance exchange.

Colorado is focusing on young people because a lot of them are uninsured. And for the Affordable Care Act to work, they need to buy into the system. Young people who probably won't use much health care are expected to balance out older, sicker people who will.

So the state is running television ads during Rockies baseball games that show people buying a health policy and then celebrating as if they'd just won a sporting event. The voice-over in the ads says, "Connect for Health Colorado, because when health insurance companies compete, there's only one winner: You."

But while Colorado follows Massachusetts' lead on advertising its new insurance marketplace, it is one of only 15 states independently setting up their own exchanges. The federal government is fully or partially at the helm of the insurance exchanges in all the other states.

It could be tough to get through to young people who may not value having health insurance. "We also know that they're most heavily marketed to, so it's really hard to break through to this group," says Mandy Cohen, with the federal Department of Health and Human Services. "We know we had to put an extra emphasis on the 18- to 35-year-old cohort."

But when the White House reached out to pro baseball, NASCAR and other sports organizations to discuss marketing partnerships, some Republicans called a foul. The National Football League reportedly passed on the idea of helping to market the exchanges.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sent the sports leagues a letter saying they, "risk damaging [their] inclusive and apolitical brand[s]" by promoting the federal health care law.

That didn't happen in Boston. "We didn't have negative feedback," says Charles Steinberg, a Red Sox executive. "In American democracy we debate issues and we come to resolution and we pass laws. And those laws are designed to benefit the people. So when you can be a communicator of the laws of the land, you believe that you're helping people."

Still, the White House as of now has canceled at least some of its meetings with sports leagues about potential partnerships.

In Colorado, the ads running during Rockies TV broadcasts haven't stirred up any controversy. But they might not be home runs either.

The same night O'Leary was in Boston, Joan Ringel was at the Rockies game. She's seen the ads on TV and says it's hard to even tell what they are for.

"You wouldn't know that that is Colorado's exchange for the Affordable [Care] Act," Ringel says. "I didn't think they explained clearly that people need to pay attention to the exchange when it's time to sign up."

This piece is part of a collaboration among NPR, Colorado Public Radio and Kaiser Health News.

Copyright 2013 Colorado Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.cpr.org.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Now that we're halfway through the Major League Baseball season, fans are starting to think about the World Series in October. October also happens to be a big month for the Obama administration. That's when millions of Americans are supposed to start signing up for new health insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act. Problem is, polls show most Americans still don't understand how they're supposed to do that.

Now, the White House and its state partners have come up with a plan to reach a key demographic - young adults. As Colorado Public Radio's Eric Whitney reports, it's a plan that involves baseball. His story begins back east.

ERIC WHITNEY, BYLINE: It's a Wednesday night in Boston and baseball fan Amy O'Leary is enjoying a Red Sox game.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

AMY O'LEARY: It's a beautiful night to be at Fenway. We have a cool breeze coming on and a lot of hope and opportunity for the night.

WHITNEY: The Sox are doing well and O'Leary's hoping it will be another year like 2007 when the team won the World Series, sweeping the Colorado Rockies in four games. 2007 is also the year Massachusetts enacted the requirement that nearly all residents have to have health insurance and the Red Sox helped get the word out about it. They let the state staff booths at games to explain it and there were ads on Red Sox broadcast networks.

O'LEARY: I think it makes sense because I think people feel like they know the players. They feel like they know the announcers. And I think that sports teams in general can be messengers of good information to a wide variety of people.

WHITNEY: Now that other states are opening health insurance marketplaces, they're trying the same strategy. Myung Kim is outreach director for Colorado's new health insurance marketplace.

MYUNG KIM: People who care about being healthy, our young adult population, are big watchers of the sports shows, and we know are going to be an important population for us to reach.

WHITNEY: Colorado is targeting young people because a lot of them are uninsured. And in order for the Affordable Care Act to work, a lot of people need to buy into the system. Young people who probably won't use much heath care are supposed to balance out older, sicker people who will. So the state is running ads like this one during Rockies games on TV that show people buying a health policy and then celebrating.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: At ConnectForHealthColorado.com, almost half a million Coloradans will qualify for cost reductions, making their health insurance more affordable.

WHITNEY: Colorado is taking the lead on its new insurance marketplace, but the White House is in charge of driving business to them in most others. Mandy Cohen, with the Department of Health and Human Services, says it could be tough to reach young people who may not currently value having health insurance.

MANDY COHEN: We also know that they're most heavily marketed to, so really hard to break through to this group. So because of those reasons, we know we had to put an extra emphasis on the 18- to 35-year-old cohort.

WHITNEY: But when the White House scheduled meetings with pro baseball, NASCAR and other sports organizations to discuss marketing partnerships, some Republicans called a foul. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sent the leagues a letter saying they, quote, "risk damaging their inclusive and apolitical brands by promoting the federal health care law."

That didn't happen in Boston, says Red Sox vice president, Charles Steinberg.

CHARLES STEINBERG: We didn't have negative feedback. You know, in American democracy, we debate issues and we come to resolution and we pass laws. And those laws are designed to benefit the people. So when you can be a communicator of the laws of the land, you believe that you're helping people.

WHITNEY: Still, the White House as of now has canceled at least some of its meetings with sports leagues about potential partnerships. In Colorado, the ads running during Rockies TV broadcasts haven't stirred up any controversy.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASEBALL GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: First baseman, no. 17, Todd Helton.

WHITNEY: The same night Amy O'Leary was watching the Red Sox in Boston, Joan Ringel was at the Rockies game in Denver. She says it's kind of hard to even tell what the ads are for.

JOAN RINGEL: Well, my husband didn't notice them and you couldn't really tell that that is Colorado's exchange for the Affordable Health Act. I didn't think they explained clearly that people need to pay attention to the exchange when it's time to sign up.

WHITNEY: The time to sign up starts in October. That's World Series time. The White House is hoping sports fans will also think of it as a chance to benefit from the Affordable Care Act. For NPR News, I'm Eric Whitney in Denver.

CORNISH: This story is part of a partnership of NPR, Colorado Public Radio and Kaiser Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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