By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The biggest operator of Blue Cross Blue Shield health plans is teaming up with the largest U.S. Spanish-language media network to explain Obamacare to Hispanics in California, New York, Colorado and Georgia.
A partnership announced on Thursday by WellPoint Inc, Univision Communications Inc and healthcare marketer HolaDoctor Inc will include 70 town hall meetings in the four states, 30-second TV and radio ads, regular newscast segments devoted to subject and an online insurance center to guide consumers through the intricacies of coverage.
The initiative, one of many outreach efforts expected in the coming months to help explain President Barack Obama's healthcare law, will begin next month and run through March.
America's 52 million Hispanics are a main audience for the roll-out of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which will offer health coverage to millions of uninsured people through new online insurance exchanges in all 50 states and expanded Medicare coverage in about half the country.
U.S. Census data show that about one in three Hispanics lacks health coverage, while many have low-to-moderate incomes that could qualify for Medicaid or federal subsidies to help pay for private insurance. In California alone, about half of the 2.6 million people with incomes low enough to qualify for subsidies are Hispanic, according to the administration.
But experts say most Hispanics are unfamiliar with the health benefits under Obamacare, which comes into full force on January 1.
"You really have to start at that square one. People need to first understand what the value of health insurance is and then what's coming under healthcare reform," said Robyn Gilson, WellPoint's staff vice president for multicultural marketing.
WellPoint is expected to become one of the biggest participants in the new insurance marketplaces, which are slated to begin enrolling consumers on October 1. The Indianapolis-based insurer currently sells health plans under the Blue Cross Blue Shield license in 14 states.
Gilson said WellPoint turned to Univision's television and radio operations as a trusted voice in the Hispanic community. New York-based Univision has two broadcast TV networks, 10 cable networks, 62 local TV stations and 69 radio stations.
California, Colorado, New York and Georgia are all WellPoint markets with large Hispanic populations.
Depending on the success of the initiative, Gilson said the outreach effort could be expanded to more areas.
(Reporting by David Morgan.; Editing by Caroline Humer and Andre Grenon)