Will NBA players slam dunk messages about exchanges?

As I write this column, almost no one outside of the healthcare industry knows anything about health insurance exchanges. And if they've even heard that term, or the one the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services prefers--marketplaces--they don't know any details about these new online shopping places.

And, really, why should they? Very few people have been talking about exchanges outside of the healthcare industry. But that's about to change.

With only a few months left before the Oct. 1 enrollment start date, a new campaign debuted last week that aims to promote exchanges across the country. Enroll America, a nonprofit group that promotes health reform, said it's marketing efforts will begin with community outreach and then build up toward a paid advertising campaign.

That should come as welcome news to insurers, whose success in selling plans on the exchanges directly depends upon consumers' knowledge that those exchanges exist and then feeling compelled to enroll in the marketplaces to shop around for a health insurance policy.

And while Enroll America's campaign should certainly boost the public's awareness of the exchanges, a new partnership that has been hinted about could really hit the ball out of the park.

Well, that's the wrong metaphor, since I'm talking about HHS teaming with the NBA to promote the online marketplaces. So maybe I should have instead said the new affiliation is a surefire slam-dunk.

The partnership isn't a done deal yet; Politico first reported the story, citing Massachusetts health officials who said they spoke with the Obama administration about the collaboration.

It's a great idea, particularly since many NBA fans are young and uninsured men, who fall within the group of consumers that HHS wants to enroll in the exchanges. If HHS could grab the attention of these consumers, who according to a new report, do want and value health insurance but can't afford it, the agency could well be on its way toward creating robust marketplaces with lots of consumer interest and, hence, insurer activity.

And an HHS-sports partnership isn't without precedent. Massachusetts officials successfully collaborated with the Boston Red Sox to promote the state's health overhaul with fan favorite players appearing in TV ads.

Does that mean we could soon see Lebron James or Kobe Bryant as spokespeople for the exchanges? That's still up in the air.

Josh Archambault, health policy director of the Massachusetts-based Pioneer Institute, raised doubts about whether the NBA is the best partner for HHS to promote exchanges. "While the typical demographics of viewers of the NBA do tilt toward those that are more likely to be uninsured--young, single males--viewers also tend to be on the affluent side," he wrote in a blog post for Forbes that he provided to Politico. "I can't help but think if [the administration] would have been better served by partnering with [Mixed Martial Arts] or [World Wrestling Entertainment] or even the X-Games."

Maybe that's next up on the agenda. At this point, the only thing that would result in a complete air ball would be if HHS doesn't partner with an organization--any organization--capable of reaching millions of young and uninsured consumers. - Dina (@HealthPayer)

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