Rhode Island is launching an effort to raise the profile of the online marketplace that individuals and small businesses can use to buy health insurance once the federal health care overhaul takes full effect next year.
Christine Ferguson, director of the state-run health benefits exchange, said Monday the outreach campaign will include presentations to businesses, community groups and consumers in all 39 of Rhode Island's cities and towns and also will feature radio and TV ads and other promotions.
The exchange has set aside a minimum of $2 million through March for advertising, exchange spokesman Ian Lang said.
Surveys found that only about 20 percent of people in Rhode Island know about the exchange, which Lang said is comparable with national numbers.
"We're really going to be ramping up our presence," he said.
Most Americans will be required to have health insurance as of Jan. 1 under the Affordable Care Act. The law, often referred to as Obamacare, provides subsidies to many people to help pay for it and penalizes those who don't get it.
In Rhode Island, individuals and small businesses will be able to compare and buy coverage on the exchange. Ferguson said she expects that 70,000 to 100,000 people will get coverage through it during the first 18 months.
State officials on Monday announced the name of the exchange, HealthSource RI, and said that a customer service center that will offer consumers help navigating health plan choices and enrolling will open in September. The state awarded a $24 million, 18-month contract to Florida-based Connextions to run it.
Connextions President Steve Auerbach said at a ribbon-cutting for the center on Royal Little Drive in Providence that the firm plans to hire between 50 and 75 people initially. It will eventually employ as many as 100. Connextions is a subsidiary of OptumHealth, which is part of UnitedHealth Group.
Speaking after the event, Ferguson said she expects HealthSource RI will offer 28 plans, including 12 individual and 16 small business plans, a number that will grow in coming years. Enrollment is set to begin on Oct. 1.
"We're going to be ready," Ferguson said.
"The issue is really the availability of health insurance and the affordability of it," she added. "I think you'll see over the next five years a real sea change of how people get insurance."