Calif. exchange wants TV shows to help tout Obama healthcare law

Officials in California want prime-time TV shows to help promote President Obama's healthcare law.

Outreach to television producers is part of the marketing plan adopted by California's insurance exchange — a new marketplace, created by the Affordable Care Act, where individuals and small businesses will be able to buy private insurance.

The exchange's public-relations plan says "individuals from California’s robust entertainment industry will be approached at the most senior levels" to promote the new marketplace and get people enrolled.

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"A number of popular television programs and personalities such as Grey’s Anatomy, Modern Family, the Biggest Loser, Dr. Oz and others will be approached and pitched to incorporate story lines or mentions of health care reform that would reinforce campaign messages," the marketing plan states.

Dr. Mehmet Oz of "The Dr. Oz Show" is already appearing in ads run by an outside group urging people to "get enrolled," according to The New York Times, which noted the state's marketing plans this weekend.

California's exchange is also considering a reality show to boost enrollment.

"In addition, we would explore approaching select reality television producers to create a new reality television program revealing the trials and tribulations of families living without medical coverage," the public-relations plan states. "This can be a long process so the conversations with the entertainment industry will begin early."

The Times reported that the California exchange has signed a $900,000 contract with Ogilvy Public Relations to spearhead the enrollment push.

Building public awareness of the exchanges will be a legitimate struggle in many states — millions of people who are currently eligible for Medicaid are not enrolled in the program, and some policy experts fear the same could be true of exchanges.

If the new marketplaces can't attract enough customers to balance out insurers' risk pools, the exchanges could face a spiral of rising premiums and declining enrollment.

Conservatives, though, have already complained about the use of taxpayer money to boost awareness of the new law. Republicans balked earlier this year when the Health and Human Services Department signed a $20 million contract with a public-relations firm to raise awareness of new preventive benefits in the ACA.

California's exchange, like all exchanges, will collect fees from its users once it's up and running. But in the meantime, it's being funded by grants from the federal government. California has received roughly $237 million in exchange grants, according to HHS.