Obamacare countdown gets under way

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer than 100 days before

uninsured Americans can sign up for coverage, Health and Human Services


Kathleen Sebelius said Monday the administration is gearing up

with new call centers, a revamped website — and a confab with

the National Football League.

No deals yet, Sebelius told reporters. But she said the idea of partnering to publicize the benefits of health insurance has

gotten an enthusiastic reception from the NFL and other pro sports leagues.

Health promotion is a goal for the leagues and "good for the country," Sebelius said.

Football season would be in full swing Oct. 1, when consumers can start shopping for coverage under President Barack Obama's

health care overhaul. Benefits take effect Jan. 1, around the time of the playoffs.

Opponents are looking for a goal-line fumble by the Obama administration as the long-awaited expansion of coverage for the

uninsured finally happens. But if Sebelius is nervous, she doesn't let on.

"It's a huge undertaking across the country, and I'm confident we're going to get it done," she said. Not only sports leagues,

but community organizations, religious denominations and public health groups will be involved with outreach.

Starting Oct. 1, consumers will be able to

access new online marketplaces through HealthCare.gov and shop for

private insurance

plans in their communities. The federal government site will be

the main portal to the new law, since about half the states

are letting Washington run the coverage expansion.

Middle-class people who don't have job-based

coverage will use the marketplace to apply for tax credits to help pay


premiums — a process that's supposed to take place smoothly and in

close to real time, though skeptics doubt it. Low-income

people will be steered to an expanded version of Medicaid in

states that accept it.

All told, it's the biggest expansion of the social safety net since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid nearly 50 years

ago. With polls showing that the law remains unpopular, and even many uninsured don't think they'll be helped, things are

likely to get off to a slow start.

About 7 million people are expected to sign up for coverage in the new marketplaces next year, also called exchanges. That

number is projected to more than triple in a few years.

Six call centers around the country have opened in recent days, and 11 will be in operation by the fall, providing service

24 hours a day. The government is arranging translation services in 150 languages, from Tagalog to Russian.

The HealthCare.gov website has been revamped

to make it a tool for consumers instead of policy wonks. It's been

designed to

work with mobile devices, and offers ready links to social media.

Plan comparisons for next year are not yet available, but

there is plenty of information on how health insurance works.

The government's name for the Spanish-language version of the site, however, still sounds clunky and bureaucratic. If there's

confusion, that could become an issue, since Latinos are more likely to be uninsured than people of any other major ethnic


The Spanish site's name, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, means something like "care of health."