A Law And A Cause Hit The Airwaves As Obamacare Marketing Begins


Access Health CT, Connecticut's health insurance exchange program, commercial launching their new advertising campaign.

Nearly 10 percent of the state's residents have no health insurance, and Kevin Counihan and Jason Madrak have a good picture of who they are and even where they live.

But for Counihan, CEO of the state health exchange that will start selling Obamacare coverage on Oct. 1, and Madrak, the marketing chief, knowing details about the nearly 350,000 uninsured people is one thing. Persuading them to enroll in a health plan is something else altogether.

On Monday, the health exchange — called Access Health CT — launches its $15 million public marketing campaign, including TV ads, to reach as many of those uninsured people as possible. The idea is to get at least 100,000 of them to enroll in a health plan for 2014.

This, finally, is the face of federal health reform, not just in our future, but in our face. It is the end result of a volatile national argument that brewed for decades before exploding in the Affordable Care Act of 2010, followed by three years of heated debate about how to make it work.

The kinks are not all ironed out, not in Connecticut or the nation. No one knows how the uninsured public will react to the plans, how much the subsidies will ultimately cost U.S. taxpayers or whether the massive reform will, as promised, lead to affordable care for millions who don't have it now.

But to its credit, Connecticut's health exchange is out in front of Obamacare, with a staff of 42 in a downtown Hartford office building, spending $110 million in federal grant money to make it happen.

"Our mission is very simple," Counihan said. "Improving access, improving transparency of information, improving quality of care."

That may be the first and last time anyone uses the word "simple" to describe anything about the federal health reform that brought us to this point. The outreach effort alone has a multi-pronged strategy to attract the attention of clients, and that's apart from the systems that have been set up to make it all work and the relationships with private insurers whose plans spell the heart of the reform.

The outreach effort includes a physical presence with storefronts and booths at public festivals in the state's poorest cities, where 85 percent of the uninsured reside; a comprehensive, colorful website that's designed to take users step-by-step through a process that's complicated by nature; a network of "assisters" and "navigators" in Connecticut communities who will seek out and enroll people; private insurance brokers, in person and online, who will earn commissions by selling the plans; and community health clinics, the providers on the front lines who see many of the uninsured exactly when they need medical care.

And of course, there is a good, old-fashioned ad campaign with social media, radio, print and TV commercials, which start to air Monday. The ad campaign alone will include a media buy of more than $6 million, about half of that on TV.

The 30-second TV spot has a theme of "Change."

"Now, thanks to Access Health Connecticut, just about everyone can get health insurance," a cheery female voice says over bold words and graphics in the exchange's orange scheme. "No one can be denied due to a pre-existing condition. You may qualify for a discount. ... Change is here."

The ad shows the web site, http://www.AccessHealthCT, but conveying details will be up to the hundreds of people working with enrollees on the ground.

"Any one of these tactics by themselves would be ineffective," Madrak said. "We need all these tactics to work together."

Tough Customers To Reach

It's a concentrated target group of potential enrollees, but a hard one to reach. Many don't speak English as their first language, many have little education and will need hand-holding through a process that can only be made so simple, and many believe that even subsidized health coverage isn't affordable.

Others — typically young males known in the business as "invincibles" — simply don't think they need insurance. And because of new pricing rules, insurers are not allowed to offer as large a discount to young, healthy people buying individual plans as they have until now.

There's a lot of concern about the prices of the plans even though most people without insurance will be eligible for a federal subsidy. With five insurers participating, the most common plans are coming in at an average of about $400 a month (before the subsidy) for individual buyers — with variations based on age.

One problem: Buying health insurance is by nature complex. The exchange is designed to make it as simple as possible, with standardized plans in four levels — platinum, gold, silver and bronze — based on the percent of care they cover. Insurers are allowed to offer two non-standardized plans per level.

Another problem: The penalty for not signing up totals just $95 in the first year.

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