WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is asking professional sports leagues, including the National Football League, for help in promoting new health-care coverage that millions of uninsured Americans can sign up for beginning Oct. 1.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Monday that she has spoken with NFL officials, describing them as "actively and enthusiastically engaged, because they see health promotion as one of the things that they think is good for them and good for the country."
No formal agreement has been reached, and an NFL spokesman declined to comment. Administration officials declined to name other sports organizations they are approaching, but a spokesman for Major League Baseball said that organization also was contacted but hasn't decided whether to participate.
A partnership with well-known athletes and sports teams could provide a significant boost as officials ramp up efforts to encourage enrollment among a demographic crucial to the success of the health law - healthy young males.
Millions of people with health problems are expected to jump at the chance to sign up for coverage that will begin Jan. 1; insurers will no longer be allowed to reject them. To offset the cost of those potentially costly customers, officials say, millions of young and healthy people need to enroll.
Though the law requires that almost everyone have health insurance beginning Jan. 1, many advocates worry that people who don't have pressing health needs won't sign up, opting instead to pay the $95 tax penalty. Supporters of the law, including the administration and several nonprofit groups, are preparing a major public relations effort that will begin this summer and extend into fall.
The effort to enlist athletes mirrors a highly successful push in Massachusetts, where the Boston Red Sox helped promote the state's universal health-care program. Players appeared in ads promoting the program, and the government used the Red Sox logo on promotional materials.
Sebelius showed off a retooled website, www.healthcare.gov online, where people and small businesses can get information about insurance options available to them.
The administration also announced the opening of a 24-hour hotline for people trying to navigate the new health insurance landscape.