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Covered California Launches $80 Million Ad Campaign

Officials at Covered California — the Golden State’s health insurance marketplace  — are placing a big bet on advertising to lure people to get health insurance. With a campaign boosted by $80 million from the federal government, they’ll tell people about the Affordable Care Act and encourage uninsured citizens to buy health insurance.

Officials see the 15-month-long campaign — using highway signs, ordinary people and stories to engage the viewer in English and Spanish — as a good way to inspire the estimated 5.2 million uninsured Californians who will qualify to buy insurance on the state-run exchange beginning Jan. 1.

“You won’t be seeing movie stars,” says Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee. “You won’t be seeing rock stars. You’ll be seeing real people.”

The campaign of radio and television commercials begins on Labor Day with a month-long, three-city trial in San Diego, Sacramento and the Chico-Redding area of the northern Central Valley.

The first phase: highway signs welcoming the viewer to  “a new state of health” (see above). Another “welcome” ad is in Spanish (below). More will roll out, including some focused on “real people telling their stories.”

“You’ll see people in their everyday lives doing things that could end up making them need health insurance,” says Covered California spokesman Dana Howard.

This no-nonsense approach to promoting California’s insurance marketplace is a departure from ad campaigns hitting the airwaves elsewhere in the nation.

Oregon, for instance, launched a $20 million media campaign with local folk singers who croon not about the health law, per se, but rather about the virtues of living healthy in Oregon.

And in Minnesota, the state’s $9 million ad campaign for its MNsure state-run exchange relies on humor by employing the mythological lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe in a series of painful, yet pretty funny, mishaps.

Officials at Covered California said they’re staying serious with their ads, because health insurance is not something to joke about.

“Things happen, and when these things do happen to you, it can mean the difference in whether you keep your job or you don’t,” Howard says. “Whether you keep your house or you don’t. It’s serious business.”

The ad campaign will expand statewide on Oct. 1, the same day that Covered California opens for enrollment, though consumers can sign up until the end of March to avoid the health law’s penalty for not having health insurance.

This story is part of a partnership that includes NPR, Southern California Public Radio, and Kaiser Health News..