Get Covered Illinois targets 53,000 mailboxes in rural areas, small cities in pilot project

Government And Institutions Associated Press

Illinois is mailing information on President Barack Obama's health care law to more than 53,000 homes this week as the campaign to promote insurance coverage reaches into rural areas and small cities in three parts of the state.

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State officials will monitor phone and website traffic from the targeted areas to see if the direct mail pilot project works. The orange fliers say "Enroll now" and explain where to get free in-person help signing up for health insurance from "some of the top carriers in Illinois." The mailings stress that most people who signed up last year got financial help that lowered their costs.

Last year, outreach concentrated on finding the uninsured in cities. In the second open enrollment season under the health law, the campaign will do more to find potential customers in rural areas, said Jennifer Koehler, the state's top official for Get Covered Illinois.

Rural outreach requires new tactics. What works well in Chicago may not work "in parts of the state where people are literally spread out over hundreds of miles," she said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

Three parts of the state will get the mailings. In northwestern Illinois, the fliers will go to 15,528 mailboxes in Rock Island County. In eastern Illinois, 16,553 mailboxes in Ford, Iroquois, Livingston and Vermilion counties will receive the information. And in the southern part of the state, 21,324 mailings will hit households in Franklin, Jackson, Perry and Williamson counties.

Those areas are below the midpoint in population density for Illinois, according to census data.

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The mailings are part of a $25.6 million state contract with St. Louis-based FleishmanHillard to promote health insurance coverage. The money comes from federal grants under the Affordable Care Act, but the work is supervised by the state of Illinois.

The second sign-up season under the health law continues through Feb. 15. Consumers must sign up by Dec. 15 for coverage to start on Jan. 1. The government is encouraging people who bought a health plan last year to return to HealthCare.gov to update their information and shop around to see if they can get a better deal.

The law requires most people to have health insurance. The penalty for having no health insurance in 2015 is going up to $325 per adult or 2 percent of household income, whichever is greater, up to a cap.

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Associated Press medical writer Carla K. Johnson can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/CarlaKJohnson