CHICAGO — President Barack Obama's administration is courting female bloggers to play a role in a massive campaign aimed at informing the public about the benefits of the new health care law.
Over breakfast at a blogging conference Thursday in Chicago, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asked a banquet hall full of bloggers — most of them women — to help spread the word about new health insurance opportunities that begin this fall under the Affordable Care Act.
Many uninsured Americans know little about how the law will affect them, Sebelius said, and want information from people they trust.
"I bet you more people could tell you the name of the new prince of England than could tell you that the health market opens Oct. 1," Sebelius said at the national BlogHer conference.
In a little more than two months, each state will have a Web-based insurance market where people can comparison shop for a health policy. The law requires most people to get covered and many will receive financial help paying their premiums through new tax credits.
The administration has been recruiting celebrities, librarians and now bloggers to help with a marketing blitz aimed at enrolling the uninsured. The federal government has a $41 million contract with public relations firm Weber Shandwick for a national campaign. Separately, federal grants will fuel a $684 million outreach effort through the states.
To the bloggers, Sebelius plugged the law's protections for women, garnering applause when she said health insurers will no longer be able to charge women more than men for a similar policy. She cited the law's guarantee of breast cancer screenings and contraception benefits for women without extra fees or copays.
In the audience was Jenni Prokopy of Chicago, who blogs at chronicbabe.com and has 20,000 unique visitors a month, mostly women with chronic illnesses. Her readers often ask her about insurance and health care costs when "they're freaked out and don't know where to turn."
"It's my responsibility to give them accurate information (about the health care law) and present that information in a way that's still my voice," Prokopy said.
Blogger Jennifer Kehl of Deerfield, Ill., was more skeptical. She said she's "not a big fan of Obamacare, to be honest" because "I need less bureaucracy, not more." But after hearing Sebelius speak, she said she would check the government's healthcare.gov website to learn more.
The BlogHer blogging network has a combined audience of 92 million on all social media platforms, said co-founder Jory Des Jardins of Oakland, Calif., so it makes sense for Sebelius to recruit them.
"It's the best way to get to the grassroots," she said.
"Very often the conversation (on health care) happens over the heads of most people," Des Jardins said.
Bloggers know their audiences and can write about the law in terms they can understand, she said.
Mothers are a big target for the administration. Market research shows that healthy young adults — who are important to the financial sustainability of the new insurance marketplace — listen to their moms when it comes to health decisions.
"One of the most trusted voices is mothers," Sebelius said at a Chicago health center later in the day. "We're trying to get a lot of information into women's hands because women often purchase the health care for their family .... With adult children they can be a very powerful and compelling voice."
Coverage under the new health policies begins Jan. 1, but people can still enroll through March 31 of next year.
Bloggers can keep the enrollment message alive after the mainstream news media moves onto other stories, said another BlogHer co-founder, Lisa Stone of Palo Alto, Calif. Stone said she heard buzz after Sebelius spoke about coordinating a day where bloggers would simultaneously write about the law.
"After the first wave, bloggers could remind people that they have enough time to get educated and make some choices," Stone said.