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States Get Creative to Inform Residents About New Insurance Marketplaces

Posted on Aug 29, 2013 by Sergio Ulloa ()  | Tags: ACA, health insurance advertising, obamacare, state insurance exchanges, state insurance marketplaces, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. health insurance

On October 1st, every state in the U.S. will open an online health insurance marketplace. For states that have opted to run their own insurance exchange (rather than letting the federal government set it up), the challenge now is informing residents about how to use these new marketplaces. Americans who already have insurance probably don't need to know the ins and outs of online exchanges, but residents who are uninsured - and their employers - will depend on their state's online marketplace to find affordable health insurance before the end of the year, when the mandatory coverage law under the Affordable Care Act comes into effect. With barely one month until the exchanges go live, states are getting creative about raising insurance marketplace awareness.

In Colorado, for example, state residents have probably noticed a plethora of recent television advertisements promoting Connect for Health Colorado. Connect for Health is the name that Colorado has given to its state insurance exchange, and with the TV advert, state officials are hoping that residents will be aware of the exchange's October 1st opening date and interested in purchasing insurance through those means. One popular commercial shows members of the Colorado Rockies baseball team; grabbing a viewer's attention with these celebrities while also disseminating key information about how the Connect for Health exchange will offer Colorado insurance buyers more choice from a range of vetted plans.

Across the country, in Connecticut, the soon-to-be state exchange Access Health CT is working to raise awareness of its services by putting up physical shops in urban areas. These storefronts will, hopefully, encourage residents to sign up to the exchange - Connecticut has around 50 million uninsured state residents, and so getting those people involved in the insurance marketplace is of the utmost importance. Legislators are hoping that the storefronts will draw in passers-by, present a more interactive face than online information or advertisements, and provide immediate help to residents confused about what the Access Health CT exchange is or how to use it.

Some states have made short cartoons to get insurance exchange information to state residents in a fun, informative manner. In Kentucky, the state exchange Kynect has created a video explaining that the online marketplace can offer individuals, families and small businesses a one-stop shopping experience for finding the right health insurance policy. The video gives viewers the insurance exchange's web address, and compares the system to booking plane tickets or a hotel - probably a tactic to overcome uncertainty amongst residents who aren't exactly sure how an online exchange works.

Another state relying on animation to get residents informed about the health insurance marketplace is Maryland. In a short cartoon being broadcast now, viewers are told that the state's exchange, Maryland Health Connection, will help customers to easily compare and choose an insurance plan; whether the customer is currently without any insurance or just looking for a new and better policy. The cartoon advertisement also mentions that Maryland Health Connection will help customers to learn if they qualify for Medicaid or any other form of discounted insurance. Maryland's advert explains some Obamacare policies in an easy to understand fashion; letting viewers know that all plans on the exchange will be offering a minimum level of coverage (including prescription drugs, inpatient services and health screenings) and will not be able to discriminate against customers based on pre-existing conditions.

In Oregon, rather than just providing information about the marketplace known as Cover Oregon, television adverts feature a catchy song to encourage Oregonians to find out more on their own. Featuring a quirky girl-with-guitar scene involving a small cast of characters in a large green field, the song emphasizes keeping healthy and living long. Although little information is given as to the specifics of the exchange, the advert certainly does a good job of bringing attention to Oregon's marketplace, and will ideally encourage state residents to visit the Cover Oregon website to learn more.

While some states are expecting cartoons and songs to do a good job getting the attention of insurance buyers, other states are taking a more serious approach. In Nevada, for example, one Reno advertising firm tasked with publicizing the state marketplace has taken a straightforward tone in its TV and newspaper adverts. One such advertisement features a family of four and text about the feelings of uncertainty and fear that some with being uninsured. Other ads will target younger buyers who may be uninformed about the upcoming insurance marketplace due to being in good health at the moment. Nevada has also said that door-to-door representatives, coming from local churches and civic organizations, will also help to get state residents comfortable and confident with approaching the exchange in October.

States are clearly basing their publicity efforts upon what they think will get residents' attention, and what their particular state populations need to know. In New Mexico, some advertising and outreach for the state exchange, Navigator, has been designed to engage tribal sovereign native communities. New Mexico has the highest population of native peoples in the contiguous United States, with more than 100,000 residents belonging to a native group according to the most recent U.S. Census. To make sure that all state residents are informed about New Mexico's online insurance marketplace, outreach events are being organized to take place at local events and health fairs, and the state is also creating an educational website specifically built for native groups to find relevant information about the exchange.

For residents in states that are letting the federal government set up part or all of its state insurance exchange, information has been less easy to come by. In November 2012, Alabama Governor Robert Bently announced that his state would not be setting up its own insurance exchange, nor would it be expanding its Medicaid program, due to budgetary limitations. As per the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is therefore tasked with creating Alabama's state exchange. As in many states not spearheading their own exchange, less information has been disseminated to Alabama residents regarding what the exchange is and how it can be used. Still, as October approaches, the federal government will likely make more efforts, as many states themselves have done, to get residents informed and enthusiastic about the opportunity to purchase insurance through their state's online exchange.

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