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Ad blitz for Obama's health care law will cost at least $684 million

| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 8:15 p.m.

CHICAGO — It will make you stronger. It will give you peace of mind and make you feel like a winner. Health insurance is what the country is talking about, so don't be left out.

Sound like a sales pitch? Get ready for more. As President Obama's health care law moves from theory to reality in coming months, its success may hinge on whether the best minds in advertising can reach one of the hardest-to-find parts of the population: people without health coverage.

The campaign won't come cheap: The total amount to be spent nationally on publicity, marketing and advertising will be at least $684 million, according to data The Associated Press compiled from federal and state sources.

More than three dozen health clinics across Pennsylvania received $4.2 million from the government for “outreach and enrollment” of uninsured people.

About 16 percent of Americans are uninsured, but despite years of political debate, more than three-quarters of them know little about the law known as “ObamaCare,” according to recent surveys.

“It's not sugar cereal, beer and detergent,” said Brooke Foley, CEO of Chicago-based Jayne Agency, one advertising firm crafting messages to reach the uninsured.

The Obama administration and many states are starting campaigns to get the word out before enrollment for benefits begins in October.

The targets are mostly the working poor, young people who are disengaged, or those who gave up insurance because of the cost. Three-quarters are white. Eighty-six percent have a high school education or less. Together they make up a blind spot in the nation's health care system.

“They've been shut out. It's too expensive, and it's incredibly confusing,” said David Smith of the advertising agency GMMB, pitching the law's benefits in Washington and Vermont.

Confusion might be magnified by the Obama administration's surprise announcement recently postponing part of the system affecting businesses. That change should not affect many individuals. A bigger complication is that in about half the states, including Pennsylvania, Republican governors declined to cooperate, which will limit the marketing.

Pennsylvania is getting $6.3 million, or 49 cents per capita, the second-lowest per-capita spending among the 50 states, according to AP research. Gov. Tom Corbett, who as attorney general sued to overturn ObamaCare, declined to expand the federal Medicaid program and will let the federal government set up Pennsylvania's online marketplace in which individuals will buy health insurance starting later this year.

Corbett has said he wants more flexibility for states that might later have to pay for expanded Medicaid.

AP research shows government spending will range from a low of 46 cents per capita in Wisconsin, which ceded responsibility for its health insurance exchange to the government, to $9.23 per capita in West Virginia, which opted for a state-federal partnership.

In GOP states, community groups with federal grants will market the law. Private companies, such as Walgreens, started educational campaigns.

Ads based on research about the uninsured will run on radio, TV and social media. Grass-roots organizers are recruiting pastors, barbers and mothers and arming them with carefully worded messages. In some neighborhoods, volunteers will knock on doors.

The pitch: If you don't make much money, the government can pick up some of the cost of your health insurance. If you can afford a policy, by law you have to get one. People will be directed to, a government site, for information.

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