Insurers Ramp Up ACA Enrollment Support

As the federal government pulls back, some private insurers, insurance brokers and state-based insurance exchanges are vigorously promoting open enrollment and educating the public about insurance and their options.

People who don’t get health insurance at work generally get one shot every year to shop for insurance on the federal health insurance marketplace or state-run exchanges. But this year, the federal marketplace is open for a much shorter time.

In previous years, open enrollment stretched 90-plus days. This year, it’s Nov. 1 through Dec. 15, which means millions of potential buyers will have just 45 days to make a critical decision.

“Health insurance is extremely important to have, and it’s important to maintain coverage at all times,” says Liz Coustan, director of retail marketing and member engagement for the individual, non-Medicare market for Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. “We want to make sure people are fully aware of their time frame for applying since it’s short this year.”

The federal government, however, is doing less this year to make people aware of open enrollment and help them make this important decision.

In 2016 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spent $100 million to advertise open enrollment. This year, HHS trimmed 90 percent of its advertising budget, leaving just $10 million to get the word out. It’s also reducing grants that support people and organizations known as navigators that guide consumers through the enrollment process.

In both cases HHS officials said the results achieved by the 2016 efforts didn’t justify the expense.

Helping consumers get covered

As the federal government pulls back, some private insurers, insurance brokers and state-based insurance exchanges are vigorously promoting open enrollment and educating the public about insurance and their options.

We want to make sure as many individuals have affordable health care coverage as possible.

For instance, the five Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans are running advertisements about open enrollment in multiple formats, including direct mail, digital online ads and television and radio spots. The ads make it clear open enrollment is shorter this year and also direct people to landing pages online where they can compare health plan offerings and learn more about coverage options.

But beyond making people aware of the plans in the marketplace, insurers need to help people “understand what the Affordable Care Act is and what insurance is,” says Gen Kruse, divisional vice president of consumer sales and business development for the five Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans. “It’s hard to jump into a plan if you don’t know where you’re starting from.”

In that vein, Kruse’s team is running training sessions for navigators who guide people through the enrollment process for free. Educating navigators isn’t about pushing them to recommend a specific carrier. Rather, it’s teaching the basics of health insurance and providing support so the navigators can give the best possible guidance to people shopping for coverage, Kruse says.

This support from private insurers is particularly important for the navigators this year. Changes in the formula for federal grants will mean a 41 percent reduction in overall funding. Navigator programs reported they will likely lay off staff and spend less money on marketing and outreach activities.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Texas Open Enrollment

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas employees were on hand at a recent health fair to answer questions about the upcoming open enrollment period for the ACA marketplace.

In addition to educating navigators and brokers, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans collaborate with local organizations to host free educational seminars to teach people about how health insurance works. Community partners have Blue-produced educational material to pass out to consumers who need help finding coverage.

“We want to make sure as many individuals have affordable health care coverage as possible,” says Allison Morgan-Cook, divisional vice president of retail marketing and member engagement. The plans are selling coverage on the exchanges in every county of the five states where they do business. “We’re doing everything we can to provide helpful information for new and returning members.”

Educating beyond open enrollment

The momentum doesn’t stop once people sign up for an insurance plan during open enrollment. Having health insurance isn’t helpful unless people use the plans.

“Once you enroll, take action and take control of your health — use your benefits,” Kruse says.

After open enrollment closes, the Plans will continue to educate, engage and empower members to use their coverage effectively, Morgan-Cook says. Members who get coverage in the marketplaces will even get personalized videos explaining their deductible, premium and covered services, so there are no surprises when it comes to what’s covered and what isn’t.

“Health care is hard, and we’re doing what we can as an organization to provide helpful tips and tools that will enable people to make the right choice for them and their families,” Morgan-Cook says. “I really hope what we’re doing makes a difference so our members can attain their best possible health.”

Here are some resources available to help consumers get marketplace coverage:

  • A nonprofit organization called Get America Covered has basic enrollment information on its website and is working with partners across the country to connect consumers with enrollment assistance.
  • Be Covered, an educational campaign by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, provides information about renewing and enrolling in coverage.

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