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ST. PAUL, Minn - Two iconic, larger-than-life Minnesota celebrities will headline a marketing campaign for the state's new health care exchange program.

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox are behind MNsure's $9 million marketing campaign, which is funded by federal grants.

The campaign is designed to encourage more than one million Minnesotans to use MNsure when enrollment begins Oct. 1.

Starting Monday, Minnesotans will see the characters on billboards, inside fitness centers, on buses and in skyways. In several weeks, commercials will begin airing on television, radio and online as part of the "Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Reasons to Get Health Insurance" campaign.

"We liked Paul and Babe because everyone seems to recognize them. They were easy to work with. The ball of twine's agent was harder," said Brian Kroening, executive creative director at BBDO Proximity, the local agency behind the ad campaign. "We were looking to what is unique to Minnesota, and they've become a great context to this whole idea."

In the ads, Paul and Babe encounter a series of misadventures that leave them in need of health care. In one television commercial, Paul accidentally water skis into a tree. In other print ads, woodpeckers attack his head, and he heads to the hospital when an axe strikes his leg.

All U.S. residents are required to have health insurance by Jan. 1, 2014. MNsure's Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov said the program is targeting enrollment for about 25 percent of Minnesota's population or 1.3 million people in the first year.

"MNsure is a new place for people to get coverage that haven't had coverage before and those that are looking to get more affordable options to come see what might be available to them," said Todd-Malmlov.

She said MNsure is also created for small business owners, workers at businesses with 50 or fewer employees and groups covered by public programs like Medicaid or Minnesota Care. People below certain income levels will be eligible for federal assistance to get coverage. Supporters say they expect it to cover about 300,000 uninsured Minnesotans.

Opponents have also organized their own campaign. A billboard asking people to refuse MNsure has gone up on Snelling Avenue near the State Fairgrounds. It was funded by the Citizens Council for Health Freedom, an organization that has opposed the Affordable Care Act from its inception.

Twila Brase,the council'sexecutive director, calls the new MNsure ad campaign a tall tale that's not transparent to the public.

"(That is) one of the things that frustrates us because they are not being truthful with the public with what they are buying on the exchange," said Brase. "It's really a government healthcare program."

Brase calls MNsure Medicaid for the Middle Class. Sunday, the MNsure team said the ad campaign is designed to clarify misleading and inaccurate messages about the exchange.

"What we are trying to do is really cut through the fray and make sure Minnesotans are getting the message they need to hear about how to access MNsure," said Todd-Malmlov.

The MNsure team said Salter Mitchell survey firm found Paul and Babe resonated with people in focus groups around the state, but Brace maintains the ads diminish the state's history.

"They are taking the heroic history of Paul Bunyan because he has a sense of Minnesota and making him look less than the legend, and they are occasionally adding crassness of their message. If you look at the history of Paul Bunyan, he's strong. He's a hero, and here we have got birds eating his brain. He lets himself go through the woods and fall over," said Brace.

Todd-Malmlov said MNsure will have more information revealed about rates and premiums on Sept. 6, when many carriers release that information.

She said full enrollment is anticipated by 2016.

Fairgoers will get the chance to ask questions at the MNsure booth at the fair. Of course, the information will also come on a stick. Learn more about the program at www.mnsure.org.

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