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NFL's help sought in promoting Obama health plan as outreach begins

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to guests at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Paul Faith/POOL
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to guests at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Paul Faith/POOL

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is seeking the help of major U.S. sports organizations, including the National Football League, to persuade young and healthy Americans to sign up for medical insurance coverage later this year, officials said on Monday.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the federal government was in the midst of negotiations on advertising campaigns and potential partnerships as part of an outreach effort that will intensify over the summer and early fall.

"The NFL, for instance, in the conversations I've had, has been very actively and enthusiastically engaged because they see health promotion as one of the things that is good for them and good for the country," Sebelius told reporters.

An NFL spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

The campaign is expected to target 2.7 million younger consumers between the ages of 18 to 35, mostly male and non-white, whose participation in new online health insurance exchanges is vital to the success of President Barack Obama's 2010 healthcare reform law.

Enrollment for the new health plans begins on October 1, and the administration has released few details about how it will persuade people to sign up.

Earlier on Monday, the administration launched its healthcare outreach effort with a new call center and a revamped website intended as the market entry point for millions of new consumers.

The campaign will be one segment of a much broader national outreach effort that will include hospitals, healthcare companies and providers, community organizers, media groups and state and local officials.

The challenge will be to overcome huge public skepticism, particularly among young and healthy consumers, that the new plans are worthwhile. Individuals who don't obtain insurance will face a penalty that begins at $95 in 2014 and rises to 2.5 percent of annual income in 2016.

Two non-profit groups with strong ties to the Obama administration - Enroll America and Organizing for Action - started their campaigns last week with national television ads and grass-roots organizing events in a number of states.

The website HealthCare.gov, which the administration has used as a public guide to its reform law, formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, has been revamped as a consumer education site where the public can learn how to get ready for open enrollment this fall.

By October, the site will allow enrollees in 34 federally operated online marketplaces to apply for federal subsidies and shop online for plans.

The administration also offers a Spanish language site with the same information at CuidadoDeSalud.gov.

Consumers also can get information about coming benefits through a new 24-hour-a-day call center that offers services in 150 languages. Beginning October 1, the call center will help consumers complete applications and select insurance plans.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Michele Gershberg, Paul Simao, Bill Trott and Cynthia Osterman)

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