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Ads for state health plan to target Red Sox nation

$3m blitz aims to get viewers to buy policies before July 1 deadline

One commercial promoting the state's insurance program features a man warning viewers to avoid catastrophic medical bills. (Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority)

Jon Kingsdale figures Red Sox Nation will be riveted on baseball this summer -- especially if the team maintains its fat division lead. So he wants to catch a piggyback ride that will pair the Massachusetts healthcare overhaul with Boston's seasonal pastime.

Kingsdale, executive director of the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, which is overseeing implementation of the healthcare revamp, will gather with state political leaders and Red Sox executives today at Fenway Park to unveil a $3 million advertising campaign that is heavily tied to the Red Sox and will be featured on the team's cable television outlet, New England Sports Network .

The state-sponsored campaign seeks to persuade residents to buy health coverage before July 1, which is the deadline for them to meet the state's new mandatory insurance law.

Television and radio spots and print advertisements will include the phone number and website address for the Connector, the conduit for 42 plans offered by six insurance companies.

The Connector says it chose the Red Sox and NESN because men age 19 to 39 -- a sports fan demographic -- make up more than half of the remaining uninsured people in the state. The New York Times Co ., parent of The Boston Globe , has an ownership interest in the Red Sox and NESN.

The Connector waited until now to launch its marketing blitz because people weren't likely to focus on their insurance options earlier, Kingsdale said. The strategy, he said, was "hold your fire until you see the whites of their eyes."

To comply with state law, residents must line up insurance within the next month. To avoid penalties, starting with the loss of their personal state income tax exemption, they must have insurance before Jan. 1, 2008.

The deal with the Red Sox also allows the Connector to set up an information booth inside Fenway, and messages will be displayed on the electronic scoreboard above the bleachers.

The ad campaign features two TV spots. The first shows a diverse range of people, including members of the Red Sox Ambassadors , the team's community liaison group, strolling across the Fenway Park outfield and telling viewers that they have health insurance. The voice-over narration says, "Massachusetts residents are now required to have it, and the state's health Connector makes it more affordable and easier to get."

A second commercial features a man with his arm in a cast, warning viewers to avoid catastrophic medical bills. "Don't wait until it's too late," he says.

The actor in the spot, Gabriel Field, 31, of Cambridge said yesterday that he recently bought a plan sponsored by the Connector for $220 a month. He had been uninsured since he abandoned a Screen Actors Guild plan that cost $400 a month.

Connector officials said yesterday that the message behind the second ad was developed after sessions with focus groups. The fear of medical bills and bankruptcy resonates heavily with uninsured men who are self-employed or who work for small firms that do not offer insurance, they said.

Many retailers spend far more on advertising every year than the Connector's budget. But the $3 million is a "pretty significant buy. It's a good chunk of change for this market," said Chris Colbert , a partner in Holland Mark, a Boston advertising firm that is not involved in the campaign.

According to Kingsdale, the state had about 370,000 uninsured residents when it started its revamp effort last year.

Other estimates of the uninsured, including the US Census, put the number much higher -- above 500,000. That has since been whittled down by 120,000 through expanded Medicaid programs and the Connector's Commonwealth Care program, which offers subsidies to individuals and families.

About 60,000 people will be exempt because they will not have access to affordable insurance either in their workplace or through the Connector.

The state hopes to enroll another 70,000 or more in Commonwealth Care, the subsidized insurance program.

That leaves a target audience of 160,000 to 200,000 for the set of new, unsubsidized plans.

Christopher Rowland can be reached at crowland@globe.com.

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