CHICAGO – Most Illinoisans without health insurance coverage know very little about the federal health care overhaul and how it might help them. It’s Brian Gorman’s challenge to make sure they learn.
Gorman, 38, a former campaign organizer for President Barack Obama, has been hired by Gov. Pat Quinn to increase the number of Illinois residents with insurance by telling them about features of Obama’s sweeping overhaul.
Within months, Gorman plans to roll out a campaign featuring 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.
Gorman, as director of outreach and education for the Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace, will be paid $71,500 this year to spread the word. He’ll oversee professional marketers and grassroots groups and spend up to $115 million in federal money – awarded today – with the goal of covering more than 1 million uninsured residents.
Below are edited excerpts of what Gorman told The Associated Press about the plan:
Q. Do Illinois residents know about the insurance marketplace, the online site where they’ll be able to shop for coverage starting Oct. 1?
A. When we conduct Illinois-specific research, we suspect the data will reflect what we’re seeing nationwide. We’re anticipating 4 out of 5 of our likely customers, the people we need to engage, don’t know we’re doing the work we’re doing.
Q. That’s pretty daunting, correct?
A. It’s a challenge. But we’re also really excited about the opportunity we have over the next five months to get the word out, to let people know what the marketplace is and how it will make their lives better by providing access to quality, affordable health care, which has been elusive to so many people in Illinois.
Q. Will this campaign have more in common with a political campaign, or with an ad campaign for a product like soap?
A. I like to think that it’s a bit more important than a campaign for soap. It’s not unfair to analogize it 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. 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).
Q. What’s your background?
A. I worked on the 2008 and 2012 Obama for America campaigns. Between the period from 2009 and 2011, I worked as an organizer for Organizing for America, advocating for the president’s legislative agenda. The major legislative accomplishment of his first term was the passage of the Affordable Care Act. But I also organized around other issues of importance to the president, like the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and support for Supreme Court Justice (Sonia) Sotomayor.
Q. How are other states branding their health insurance marketplaces?
A. California is known as “Covered California.” It’s the “Connector” in Massachusetts. We want something people will recognize that’s a little less wordy than “Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace.” (It will be up to the marketing firm that wins the Illinois bid to design a logo and come up with a name.)
Q. Who else will be involved in reaching people without insurance?
A. Nonprofits, community-based organizations, government agencies, volunteer groups, labor unions. We want to inform and empower everybody to play a part in this.
Q. What’s the budget for this campaign?
A. We were awarded from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services $115 million. We have the resources we need to create something unique and strong and trusted in Illinois.
Q. Will there be any state money involved?
A. No state funds at all. I want to be very clear about that. This grant is $115 million in federal dollars.
Q. How will community organizations get involved?
A. It’s a competitive grant award process. The grantee needs to demonstrate their plan for educating and enrolling people in their community. We are allowing these community-based organizations to determine what resources they need to achieve specific, defined goals that we will hold them accountable for.
Q. When will the campaign launch?
A. The grant application process will start early next month. Our goal is in July to have Illinois grantees awarded and start the training process for them at the same time. Hopefully, we’ll have a product and a brand and a message to start pitching.
Q. You’ve said social media will be part of the campaign. Why use Twitter and Facebook?
A. The digital outreach is just another way to inform and connect folks with the message and the brand. Smartphones play an important role in our target demographic. This is their tool, their personal computer.
Q. How will you know if you’ve been successful?
A. If we’re waiting until October to start measuring our success, I believe that’s far too late. That means creating specific goals and using metrics to hold ourselves accountable for achieving goals.
One very important metric will be “pre-enrollment” numbers. We will want groups to get us detailed information on as many people as possible: their name, email, phone number, so when Oct. 1 rolls around we can start getting those people enrolled immediately.
Another metric will be the number of culturally unique events that groups carry out, such as county fairs and other events where there will be lots of potential enrollees.