President Barack Obama’s national health care reform is the biggest addition to the nation’s social safety net since the advent of Medicare nearly 50 years ago. The Affordable Care Act is estimated to cover at least 30 million of the nearly 50 million people now uninsured at a cost of $1.7 trillion from 2013 to 2022 -- perhaps more in later decades as greater numbers of people sign up and medical costs keep rising.

The Associated Press, which has reporters in all 50 states -- a footprint unmatched by any other news organization – will provide comprehensive coverage and support for member news organizations in localizing stories as implementation of the wide-ranging law shifts to the states. Signups for the expanded health care coverage start Oct. 1; the expansion of coverage goes into full effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

A package of AP stories scheduled for Jan. 28-29 includes a primer on buying health care coverage at the state level in insurance markets called exchanges. Other offerings in that package will decipher the terminology spawned by the legislation, answer key consumer questions, and examine the challenge facing the states, which must decide whether to expand the Medicaid safety net health insurance program to cover millions of low-income people left out until now.  

“Though the Affordable Care Act was devised in Washington, it’s in the states that we’ll find out if it works, so no one else is positioned to give this story the breadth, detail and how-to consumer information that AP will provide its member news organizations and other customers,” said Kristin Gazlay, AP managing editor for state news, financial news and global training. “As implementation shifts to the states and they try to figure out how to comply with the law, this big story is set up to draw on AP’s unique strengths.”
 
In the forefront of AP’s plans, team leaders have been designated in each region to work with the news editors and reporters in the individual states who are assigned to cover how the Affordable Care Act will go into effect.

Sacramento correspondent Tom Verdin, who helped drive AP’s national “Broken Budgets” initiative examining the fiscal crises in the states, will be the overall project leader. Washington-based reporter Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, who’s covered federal health care policy for the past decade, including tracking the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, will continue to cover the rollout and advise reporting efforts in the AP’s state bureaus.

Throughout the year, the AP’s text stories, videos and interactives will aim to offer a lifeline for readers as they struggle to grasp the complexities of the act and will place an emphasis on addressing their most pressing question: “What does it mean for me?”

“Rarely does a story of this sweep and long-term significance come along,” Gazlay said. “The AP plans to seize the opportunity and dominate coverage of the story in the coming year, so we might also meet the expectations of our member papers and other customers that rely on us for vital state news coverage.”

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