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The country is gearing up for the launch of the federal health care law's requirement for almost everyone to have health insurance. Connecticut and a handful of other states are taking advantage of federal money to help them advertise the health insurance options out there.
As Jeff Cohen, of member station WNPR reports, Connecticut has hired throngs of workers to go to some pretty interesting places and spread the word.
JEFF COHEN, BYLINE: In Connecticut, they're taking Obamacare to the people. They've got the standard billboards, television and radio ads, and pamphlets. But there's more. At beaches, they're handing out tubes of sunscreen that say: Get Covered. They're opening up Apple-like storefronts. And across the state, they're going to fairs and concerts like this, the America's Most Wanted Rap Concert featuring superstars L'il Wayne and T.I.
PAPILON PAP HAZE FERREIRAS: This is Pap Haze, by the way. I'm 21 but I'll be 22. No health insurance, still living healthy.
COHEN: That's Papilon Ferreiras. He goes by Pap Haze, and he says he works about 35 hours a week at Taco Bell.
FERREIRAS: I make $8.30 an hour, slaving it. But I do it for the fun of it.
COHEN: You don't have health insurance. Would you like health insurance?
FERREIRAS: Yeah, all day. Who wouldn't? Who wouldn't like health insurance?
COHEN: This is when Emanuela Cebert sees an opening.
EMANUELA CEBERT: OK, listen....
COHEN: Cebert is an outreach worker. She's got a tablet computer with her.
CEBERT: If I had a way for you to get more affordable health insurance, would you want to learn more about it?
FERREIRAS: I'll look into it.
CEBERT: Yeah, would you?
FERREIRAS: Not today. But I'll look into it.
CEBERT: I'll get your information, either email, phone number, or what have you. And then, when this all starts in October, somebody will contact you so you can get health insurance.
FERREIRAS: All right, that's cool.
COHEN: Not far away is Kevin Counihan. Counihan is the executive director of Access Health CT, the state's healthcare exchange. He's got $15 million in federal money to spend on marketing.
KEVIN COUNIHAN: For something like this, which is the biggest expansion of health insurance in 50 years, it's pretty hard to communicate effectively without investing some. We invest in a lot of other programs in order to promote them. We did in Medicare Part D. We did in Medicare. We have in Social Security. All these require some investment.
COHEN: Connecticut is one of 16 states and the District of Columbia setting up its own health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. And that means it has access to federal marketing money to reach the state's uninsured. The outreach is staring now, even though you can't officially sign up until October 1st and coverage begins in January.
Sometimes, the concertgoers are receptive, like Pap Haze. Sometimes they keep walking. And sometimes, they're just having too much fun to talk health care.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You know Obamacare legislation, the Affordable Care Act is going through in 2014?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Well, you can't talk to me right now, 'cause I'm intoxicated.
COHEN: So, it's not always easy to do this outreach. But if the health care expansion is going to survive, the outreach is important. And it's about more than the numbers. It's about demographics.
COUNIHAN: We're going to be at Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley. We're going to be at the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival. It has to be broad and comprehensive. If we narrowed this to, say, the Hartford Pops Festival, we will get a slim demographic which doesn't adequately reflect our state.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Ready, get set, go.
COHEN: A few weeks later, Counihan's operation was at the Milford Oyster Festival, with a shucking competition. The goal was to reach an older, more suburban crowd.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Hi. How are you?
ROBERT HARRINGTON: Good.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Would you like to learn more about Access Health?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Well, we're the new health insurance marketplace in the state of Connecticut...
COHEN: Robert Harrington could get health insurance through his job, but he doesn't - it's too expensive.
HARRINGTON: Hundred dollars a week, you know, I got to eat. Do I pay health insurance? Do my kids eat?
COHEN: Now, he doesn't have much of a choice. He doesn't like President Obama. And he doesn't like Obamacare. But he doesn't want to be penalized for being uninsured.
HARRINGTON: You know, I got to do what I got to do. You know, I don't want to freaking get fined. 'Cause it's a tax.
COHEN: And then there's Gary Mott. He's a tub refinisher with insurance, but he worries about his $10,000 deductible.
GARY MOTT: For both of us altogether, it's about $450. So we're good right now, as far as the premiums go - but that's deductible. If one or both of us gets in - you know, really sick, we're in trouble. That's how people end up losing their homes and stuff. So I'm looking for something that I could afford 'cause I'm self-employed. I'm not a rich man; getting by.
COHEN: So Mott could be one of the people who find an option in Connecticut's marketplace. Exchange head Kevin Counihan says he's hopes that 100,000 people will enroll in the first year alone.
For NPR News, I'm Jeff Cohen in Hartford.
SIEGEL: And that story is part of a collaboration of NPR, WNPR and Kaiser Health News.
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