When the Boston Red Sox play the Phillies next week, they will bring more to the series than a winning record and the promise of some exciting baseball games. The team carries a new tradition that extends beyond the playing field - it served as one of the first ambassadors for health reform.
The tradition dates to the spring of 2007. The Red Sox had just begun one of their best seasons ever and were on the way to their second World Series in four years. Boston fans were still reveling in the end, three years earlier, of the team's "curse," its 86-year championship drought.
It was the perfect time for the team to use its perennial popularity for an even greater mission. What could be greater than baseball, you may wonder. The answer is making sure that everyone has access to health care.
The previous year, Massachusetts had enacted the most sweeping health reform law in the nation. Its goal was to extend coverage to almost all of the state's residents. To do that, it implemented a complex plan that created an insurance exchange through which the uninsured could purchase policies, offered subsidies to those with low incomes, and mandated that every resident maintain coverage or face a financial penalty.
Sound familiar? It seems a lot like Obamacare because it served as the model for that law. Today, it often goes by the name of the governor who supported and signed it – "Romneycare."
Having enacted the law, the state faced a similar challenge to one the Obama administration confronts today. It had to explain the complex plan to the public and convince those without insurance to obtain it.
That's where the Red Sox came in. In May of that year, the team announced a partnership with the Massachusetts insurance exchange, known as the Health Insurance Connector Authority, to publicize the health reform law. Under the arrangement, information kiosks were placed in Fenway Park at home games where people could learn about insurance options and enroll, a full-page insert was placed in programs during the month of September, and ads were run during pre-game ceremonies.
The team also sponsored a special "Cover Your Bases – Connect to Health" night at Fenway Park and permitted use of its logo on the Authority's promotional materials. In addition, the Red Sox cable network carried ads for the Authority throughout the season. (To see some of the ads that promoted health reform in Massachusetts, click here.)
The Red Sox were among the most visible private health reform partners, but there were plenty of others. The Authority also joined with major corporations like CVS, Comcast and Bank of America, with unions and with nonprofit groups to get the word out. The campaign they launched included public service announcements, billboards, and in-store announcements. The state also formed a broader coalition to promote the law with hospitals, insurance companies, and business groups.
By most accounts, the result of these efforts was a resounding success. The Massachusetts system is running smoothly, and the state has the lowest rate of uninsurance in the country.
The Obama administration recently announced that it, too, was seeking private partners to help publicize health reform. A few corporations and nonprofit groups are eager to help. Yet some Republicans in Congress have questioned the effort and called for an investigation.
Where would such an inquiry lead? Would investigators question Mitt Romney, whose plan relied heavily on such an effort? Would they then grill the Red Sox? There is a strong tradition of health care partnerships between the government and the private sector under both political parties. The Obama administration's effort is nothing new. Calls to investigate it suggest an attempt at partisan sniping.
In 2007, the Red Sox, along with other corporate partners, taught the Massachusetts public a great deal about health reform. A similar effort could make a big difference for Obamacare and help millions of American gain benefits from the law.
In the meantime, maybe the Phillies can learn something from the Red Sox about playing winning baseball.