Wis. to be hands-off in promoting health care law

  • Article by: DINESH RAMDE
  • Associated Press
  • July 24, 2013 - 2:00 PM

MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin is taking a hands-off approach when it comes to publicizing details about the new federal health care law.

The government plans to spend at least $684 million nationwide 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. So Wisconsin is expected to receive just $2.6 million in federal outreach grants, and nothing directly for in-state marketing and advertising.

National surveys show that more than three-fourths of uninsured people know little about the new health care law. 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 grants that would have covered marketing costs had Wisconsin implemented a state-based exchange, or online marketplace. Instead Wisconsin is leaving it up to the federal government to set up the exchange and publicize it.

Wisconsin is still getting some help, though. It's expected to receive $830,000 in federal grants to pay for so-called navigators, who are counselors trained to help people with insurance plans. And 16 health centers across the state have received a combined $1.8 million to help educate residents, particularly the poor.

The total funding means the government would be 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. Without as extensive an outreach campaign in Wisconsin 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."

The federal government also has a $41 million contract for a national campaign that will target Wisconsin and other states that don't have state-based exchanges.

Open enrollment in the health care exchanges starts Oct. 1, and coverage takes effect in January. The federal law requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a penalty.

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