WASHINGTON — Betting that President Barack Obama's health care overhaul withstands lawsuits and a Republican repeal drive, an unusual alliance of industry, health care and consumer groups is laying the groundwork to sign up uninsured Americans.
Called Enroll America, the group will launch Wednesday — a day after the Census Bureau reported that nearly 50 million people had no health insurance in 2010, the highest number since the statistic was first collected more than two decades ago.
Organizers said the coalition got critical seed money from America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry group that opposed passage of the health care law.
"They were one of the first contributors," said Ron Pollack, president of Families USA, a liberal advocacy group that organized the enrollment campaign. "AHIP provided $100,000 for the development of a business plan. We needed a business plan in order to build the confidence of donors."
Insurers have committed $1.5 million to the campaign and the drug and pharmacy industry has pledged $2.5 million thus far. About $2 million more is coming from hospitals and foundations, Pollack said. The more than 40 members include AARP, Aetna, the American Hospital Association, United Way and the National Association of Health Underwriters.
AHIP — the insurance industry trade association — does not appear on the list, but an official of the organization said it supports the coalition's objectives. Obama's health care law will cover more than 30 million people, an infusion of new customers for an insurance industry increasingly dependent on government programs.
Although it took Congress more than a year of arduous work to pass the law, and debate still rages about its reach and scope, many uninsured Americans seem to be unaware that they stand to gain when the big coverage push gets going in 2014.
A recent poll by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly half the uninsured didn't know they could get coverage. Individuals and families with moderate incomes will receive taxpayer subsidies to purchase private insurance in new state markets called exchanges. Low-income adults will be eligible for Medicaid, which many states administer through private managed-care plans.
"People need to know that this coverage will be there," said Rachel Klein, the new group's executive director.
Enroll America has two main missions, she said. One is to encourage states to make it easy for people to sign up for coverage, by providing model regulations. The other is to get the word out among the uninsured, through advertising and community outreach.
"There seems to be broad agreement across the industry that we want as many people enrolled as possible," said Bruce Bodaken, CEO of Blue Shield of California, whose company was supportive of the overhaul and is now backing the enrollment campaign. With more than 3 million members currently and a widely recognized brand, Blue Shield could conceivably get hundreds of thousands of new customers through the California exchange.
That's assuming the overhaul survives. Republican presidential candidates are united in promising its repeal, if elected. And a constitutional challenge is working its way toward the Supreme Court.
"Frankly, our view has been that it's going to be ruled constitutional," said Bodaken. "We haven't spent any time thinking about any other options."