By Chad Terhune, Los Angeles Times
January 18, 2013

Federal officials awarded California’s new health insurance exchange a $674-million grant, providing money for a crucial marketing campaign aimed at millions of uninsured consumers.

The state-run insurance exchange, Covered California, is seeking to fundamentally reshape the health insurance market by negotiating with insurers for the best rates and helping consumers choose a plan.

Enrollment in the program starts in October for policies going into effect Jan. 1, when much of the federal healthcare law kicks in.

Although some states have resisted President Obama’s massive insurance expansion, California has been forging ahead to set up its online marketplace.

One of the key challenges is getting the word out to an estimated 5 million Californians who will be eligible to buy coverage in the exchange. About half of those people are uninsured and will be eligible for federal premium subsidies, according to state officials.

Peter Lee, the exchange’s executive director, said the agency will draw on the federal grant announced Thursday for a two-year, $250-million marketing campaign statewide.

At an exchange board meeting in Los Angeles on Thursday, consumer advocates and community activists urged officials to offer information in multiple languages and to make online enrollment as simple as possible.

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