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updated: 5/9/2013 7:15 AM

Big ad agencies bid on Illinois health outreach

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Associated Press

Some of the largest ad agencies and public relations firms in the nation are competing for a multimillion-dollar contract with the state of Illinois to promote a feature of the national health overhaul law.

Illinois officials began evaluating bids from 13 companies Wednesday for the marketing of the new health insurance marketplace. Potential bidders were told during the bidding process the budget could reach $30 million to $35 million, said Mike Claffey, a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

The money for the campaign comes from a $115 million federal grant. Quinn's office announced Monday that $28 million of that total will be available for competitive grants to community organizations that want to help with the outreach.

Familiar names among the bidders for the advertising and marketing contract include J. Walter Thompson, Fleishman-Hillard, Golin Harris and CMGRP, which does business as Weber Shandwick.

Other bidders are CBD Marketing, PACO Communications, Commonground, Finn Partners, MACHETE Inc., Jayne Agency, E3 Group, Carol H. Williams Advertising and Metropolitan Group.

President Barack Obama's national health law requires that nearly all Americans have health insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a penalty. New insurance marketplaces are scheduled to be operating in every state by Oct. 1. People who are uninsured will be able to comparison-shop for affordable health plans on these websites and many will qualify for tax credits to help them pay for coverage.

It's important for Illinois to get as many uninsured residents as possible -- both healthy people and those with expensive medical conditions -- to enroll in health plans through the marketplace. A balance of sick and healthy people will make sure there is enough premium revenue to cover the medical bills that insurance carriers will cover.

But polls show that many uninsured people know very little about the health insurance marketplace and other features of the Affordable Care Act.

The campaign in Illinois is likely to include TV ads, radio spots, tweets and billboards -- possibly featuring sports teams -- to promote a so-called "culture of coverage" and urge people without insurance to sign up.

Brian Gorman, director of outreach and education for the Illinois marketplace, will be paid $71,500 this year to oversee the professional marketers and grassroots groups.

In an April interview with The Associated Press, Gorman likened the effort to a political campaign.

"We need to raise awareness and inform likely customers of our product, what it means and what it can do, how it affects their loved ones, their family members, their pocketbooks," Gorman said last month. "We have to aggressively raise awareness and you have to get those folks to take action. All that awareness is pointless unless we're actually able to get people to enroll (in a health plan)."

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