updated 8/29/2007 10:15:48 AM ET 2007-08-29T14:15:48

If Social Security is the third rail of politics, health care is the gum stuck to the station platform: Everyone sees it, it's just easier to ignore it than to try to do something about it. But even this early in the campaign season, a lot of ad money has gone into making sure that candidates will finally have to roll up their sleeves and take on the problem.

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The American Medical Association will step into the ring on Labor Day when it unveils the first ads of a three-year, multimillion-dollar effort to raise awareness about the uninsured and spur lawmakers and candidates into action. The eventual goal of the campaign is to see universal health care legislation passed in 2009, according to Nancy Nielsen, AMA president-elect, who introduced the ads at a press conference last week.

In the first phase of its "Voice for the Uninsured" campaign, the AMA will run print and TV ads in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina urging voters to cast their ballots with the issue of health care in mind. The ads will also get heavy play around Washington, D.C., including plans to blanket the downtown Metro Center subway stop with posters and banners targeting lawmakers and policy wonks.

Two of the TV spots focus on humanizing health care statistics, reminding viewers that those figures represent real people facing real health problems. "One out of seven [Americans without health care] is not just a statistic," says an announcer in "One Out Of Seven." "It's a father with leukemia, a friend with depression, a son with a heart ailment." In a second ad, the announcer emphasizes that the number of uninsured isn't just "a graph in a report. It's people with simple needs like wanting to provide for a child."

Rather than shots of hospitals or doctors, these two ads focus on everyday life, showing children at play and people walking through a crowded park. Both spots press viewers to visit the campaign's Web site and "vote with this issue in mind."

The AMA's third spot underlines the group's efforts "to make sure all Americans have coverage" and shows doctors and patients speaking into stethoscopes. "We all have a voice, and a vote," the announcer says.

Nielsen stresses that the AMA doesn't contribute to or endorse presidential candidates, but she acknowledges that the campaign aims to influence the conversation in early primary states. "This is a full-court press," she said. "This ad campaign is a blitz to get the candidates talking about health care."

After the $5 million first phase of the campaign, the AMA plans to take its efforts nationwide to continue to convince candidates to focus on the issue. The third and final phase will involve targeting specific members of Congress to pass a health bill in 2009.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.


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