When President Biden rolled out the American Rescue Plan, the Affordable Care Act surged with funding and enhancements. The pandemic drove millions of affected Americans out of affordable health insurance plans, and this new law would expand the marketplace in a big way. State-based marketplaces also recognized the influx of support. SBMs began looking to attract consumers to their platforms to take advantage of the increase in subsidies and the Special Enrollment Period. But to really leverage these enhancements, SBMs know that simply relying on the federal marketing alone would not bring in enrollees. So, many SBMs are thinking outside the box and implementing new marketing strategies at the state level.
New Marketing Strategies
People who found themselves uninsured or had not been eligible for premium tax credits before now can enroll with huge health insurance savings. But many of those consumers don’t know what’s available to them, nor where to begin their shopping process. Healthcare.gov doubled its marketing spending, but it’s not necessarily enough. SBMs are now developing targeted marketing strategies of their own.
Selling health insurance isn’t necessarily an easy feat. And there are statewide factors unique to each SBM that present challenges. For example, some states struggle to attract enrollees who are younger, healthier, or less at risk. There are many Americans who just don’t believe they’ll get sick or require major medical attention. Other states face challenges addressing the misconception of the status quo with regard to traditional SBM experiences. And health insurance can be complicated to understand at the consumer level, driving many to “put off” shopping for health insurance at all.
A robust marketing initiative begins with addressing key challenges first. Announcing the Special Enrollment Period and explaining who can take advantage of it is a great place to start. In years past, those SBMs that implemented these basic marketing efforts saw increased enrollment and participation. And the data collected from campaigns past and present can be essential tools for SBMs looking to develop new outreach directives today and because of the pandemic.
Making Smart Use of Virtual Outreach
Because of the pandemic, many industries quickly pivoted to embrace more virtual and digital methods of consumer engagement. SBMs are doing the same. Many SBMs are spending big to update their websites and develop customizable methods of reaching the most vulnerable state residents who need health insurance. Some SBMs are collaborating with other state agencies to reach target communities, including those qualifying for Medicaid, those who lost jobs, and those more at risk for health concerns. Working with various government agencies can help SBMs reach the most critical audiences in the most virtual and efficient way, including by email, text, and mail.
Some states see success with the use of targeted messages with ad videos. Past campaigns with precise messaging have proven successful. A few years ago, for example, Colorado launched a video ad campaign speaking to young adults just turning 26 who were falling off of their parent’s insurance plans. Several of these marketing efforts included Spanish-speaking messages, while other direct messaging ads targeted Colorado ranchers who may need coverage. The results were tremendous, and enrollment in the state’s marketplace surged.
For those SBMs struggling to get past the negative stigma of the ACA, getting creative might be the order of the day. Take a page from Kentucky’s playbook when the state rebranded Obamacare entirely. Using collective data based on surveys of state residents, officials realized there were unfavorable sentiments regarding the exchanges. Knowing many of the residents seemed to oppose the ACA, officials also recognized that residents still felt a need for an affordable health insurance option. Kentucky renamed its exchange, calling it KYnect, making the SBM feel more localized outreach program for health insurance and not the necessarily federally backed platform. With the use of testimonial videos, television ads, local billboards, and social media, a little rebranding proved to be the strategic marketing way forward.
Many states are making smart use of testimonials, creating video messages using characters with whom residents can identify. Single moms, families without reliable income due to the pandemic, and essential workers all represent consumers who may need affordable health insurance coverage. New York saw success with robust testimonial campaigns back in 2018, when it launched the “4 Million Reasons to Enroll” initiative. It featured the sentiments of four million New Yorkers who found reliable and affordable coverage through the SBM. And it worked.
New Enrollment Methods as a Result of the Pandemic
In addition to launching targeted virtual messages, many SBMs are also exploring better enrollment methods to reach people during the pandemic. Some are exploring the use of consumer assistance networks and call centers to conduct massive outreach efforts. Providing one-on-one assistance to help consumers browse their marketplace options, programs like the ACA’s Navigator program are proving to be an essential and vital resource for vulnerable populations. Offering remote and digital assistance to consumers helps connect people with affordable health insurance, answer their questions, and drive enrollments that wouldn’t otherwise occur.
During the height of the pandemic shutdowns, these call centers saw increases in activity. And with social distancing a requirement, many were able to navigate to online portals for information and enrollment options. SBMs are redirecting current funding to support these methods, improving resources, enhancing associate training, and making enrollment accessible in every remote channel possible.
Many states are also turning to apps as a more effective enrollment tool. Maryland did so back in 2016, with much success. The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange sought to increase connection with young residents, along with lower-income populations. The state’s data suggested the best way to connect with these groups was via mobile devices and apps. Enroll MHC became a lifeline to those who relied on cellular phones for internet access. The app allowed browsers to view health plans, compare pricing, and use the mobile device to upload images of verification documents.
Today’s pandemic-affected environment calls for a new rule book. And SBMs are taking new measures to market to and enroll their targeted audiences. Marketing strategies, along with much of the health industry, continue to change and adapt. Rely on Softheon to keep you informed on the very latest.
Meet the Author
Josh Schultz is a Senior Policy Analyst at Softheon, where he advises the company on health policy issues affecting businesses and government health agencies. Prior to Softheon, Josh worked for a non-profit agency assisting Medicare beneficiaries, a technology company, and consulting firms.