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Why new health group Enroll America matters

at 02:19 PM ET, 09/14/2011

Keep an eye on a new health industry coalition launching today: Enroll America. The 42-member coalition, which includes health heavyweights like the American Hospital Association and Aetna, has been in the works for over a year now. Today, it launches with a single goal: getting millions of Americans, newly-eligible for affordable insurance under the health overhaul law, actually signed up. And if it succeeds, the health law could end up covering many more of the uninsured than the law’s authors -- or its detractors -- ever thought.


(TOBY MELVILLE - REUTERS)

The CBO estimates that the health-reform law will cover 32 million more Americans in 2019. But it also predicts that 23 million Americans will remain uninsured. About a third of those will be illegal immigrants, who aren’t eligible for the reform law’s insurance subsidies. That still leaves about 16 million Americans, many of whom may be eligible for public programs, uninsured. The CBO, for example, expects that nearly 6 million of those newly-eligible for Medicaid just won’t sign up for the program.

This leaves open a pretty wide playing field for a group like Enroll America. If it does its job really well, the number of Americans who gain health insurance may soar far above 32 million. If it doesn’t, the number who sign up may be much lower than what the CBO expects.

Enroll America has spent just over a year now laying the foundation to do its job really well. The group brought in consultants from McKinsey and Company (on loan from Blue Cross Blue Shield Association) to draft up its business plan. It’s raised $6 million in financing so far, largely from its private industry members, and plans to accrue much more as it runs an “eight-figure” advertising campaign about two years from now, in 2013. Enroll America is already in preliminary talks with the National Football League about having some players appear in its ad spots.

Families USA director Ron Pollack, a driving force behind Enroll America, recruited one of the oddest-bedfellow coalitions that exists in the health industry right now, which will increase its reach. Some members, like the American Hospital Association, aggressively support the Affordable Care Act. Others aggressively oppose it. The National Association of Health Underwriters, a member group that lobbies for health insurance brokers, has endorsed health reform repeal legislation.

But if the law stands, they all have a common interest: getting uninsured Americans covered. Insurers want more customers. Hospitals are sick of providing uncompensated care. Health brokers make commissions off enrollment. The past year has been spent putting together a business plan and recruiting health industry groups to join the effort. “Even though various groups involved in health care have different perspectives on the directions we should head in health policy, we all have a real joint, undivided interest in making sure everyone becomes enrolled,” says Pollack.

Enroll America is taking on a challenging issue on in a big way. The majority of uninsured Americans don’t think the health reform law will help them, the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation report found. As the Hill’s Sam Baker smartly pointed out, polling data seems to show Americans forgetting what the reform law does as we move further away from its passage. “Our biggest hurdle is most people don’t even know this is coming,” says Rachel Klein, director of Enroll America. How much a multi-million campaign can change that will be a key factor to watch in the health law’s success.

 
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