WASHINGTON: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has hired Weber Shandwick to raise awareness about state healthcare insurance exchanges that will be run by the federal government.
The firm's contract with CMS, a unit of the Department of Health and Human Services, is worth more than $3.1 million. The contract's base period will end April 15, 2013, with an option for a 12-month extension.
The exchanges are marketplaces where consumers will buy insurance and insurers will sell plans. The Affordable Care Act has mandated that states must create exchanges by January 1, 2013, so individuals and small employers can purchase coverage from them by the start of the next year.
If states do not meet that deadline, the federal government will both run and promote the exchanges, which will be known as “federally facilitated exchanges,” according to the RFP.
“This will help our effort to ensure more Americans have access to quality, affordable health insurance,” said Brian Cook, director of the media relations group at CMS.
As of October 2, only 13 states and the District of Columbia have formally said they intend to set up exchanges. Other states have lagged behind or decided not to operate their own exchanges, according to a report from the Health Research Institute.
Weber will create a strategic plan with short- and long-term tactics for exchange outreach and education. The agency will also promote early awareness and foster engagement with consumers to help them learn more about coverage that they may be eligible for, as well as to promote upcoming enrollment periods, according to the RFP.
The firm is looking “forward to working with CMS to make sure all Americans understand the health coverage options available to them," said Pam Jenkins, president of Weber Shandwick Washington.
Tim Ryan, VP and MD of Weber's Sawyer Miller Advertising unit, and Karen Oliver, SVP at Weber public affairs arm Powell Tate, will lead the account work, she added.
The award follows a wave of bad press after Ogilvy Public Relations received a contract to promote California's exchange. Specifically, California is facing criticism about Ogilvy reportedly developing a reality show about life without the healthcare law and its plan to hire popular TV personalities to promote the exchange.
CMS also rehired Powell Tate in June to conduct outreach for the “Welcome to Medicare” program. The Weber unit has worked with the department of Health and Human Services since 2009 on the account.