As part of its campaign to increase public awareness about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) introduced some new terminology Wednesday: the entities formerly known as 'health insurance exchanges' -- websites similar to Expedia or Orbitz where people can purchase health coverage -- will now be called 'health insurance marketplaces.'

It's a subtle distinction, but one that could be key for branding purposes. Exchange is a wonky term, while marketplace will likely be more intuitive for the general public. To illustrate that point, Governing already commonly described the exchanges as "insurance marketplaces," as did most other media outlets.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made the transition official in a blog post published Wednesday, which coincided with a total relaunch of HealthCare.gov, the Obama administration's online home for the ACA.

"Over the last two years we’ve worked closely with states to begin building their health insurance marketplaces, also known as exchanges...," Sebelius wrote.

An HHS official told Governing that the department had begun using 'marketplace' in place of 'exchange' informally in recent months, and Wednesday's announcement simply finalized the change.

"We felt simpler was better,"Jason Young, HHS deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, told USA Today in a story on the new branding campaign.

HHS could end up running exchanges in as many as 30 states in 2014, which could explain the renewed focus on public relations. So far, 17 states have committed to a state-run exchange, and two others will partner with the federal government for an exchange.

States have until Feb. 15 to decide if they want a partnership exchange. For those that don't, HHS will be responsible for the whole operation, including public outreach.

Image via iStockphoto

Dylan Scott, Governing  | 

Dylan Scott (@DylanLScott) graduated from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University in 2010. While there, he won an Associated Press award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series of stories on the university’s structural deficit. He then worked at the Las Vegas Sun and Center for Education Reform before joining Governing. He has reported on the Supreme Court’s consideration of the Affordable Care Act and various education reform movements in state and local government. When out of the office, Dylan spends his time watching classic films and reading fantasy fiction (most recently: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin).