Getting the word out on health care reform
BY FRANCINE KNOWLES Staff Reporter August 23, 2013 11:42PM
Maxine Winer, senior partner and general manager at .FleishmanHillard.
Updated: September 26, 2013 6:44AM
Confused about the Affordable Care Act and what it means for you? Beginning Oct. 1, a full-court press marketing campaign will launch to change that. The state’s initial goal is to persuade nearly 490,000 consumers to buy insurance through the new Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace, made possible by the law.
With public awareness low and the clock ticking on a Jan. 1 start date for coverage, FleishmanHillard’s $35 million federally funded contract to market the marketplace was finalized by the state Aug. 16. The firm, which is partnering with five companies, is well-prepared to deliver on the comprehensive plans it detailed to win the contract, said Maxine Winer, senior partner and general manager at the firm in Chicago.
In recent weeks, FleishmanHillard has been conducting focus groups to help fine-tune its planned messaging, she said, adding, “There’s also in-depth, in-person interviews and online message testing taking place to make sure we understand the concerns people have, what kind of misinformation is out there. That will inform everything we do.”
Consumers will be able to compare health insurance policies and premiums, purchase coverage and apply for subsidies at the marketplace.
The campaign will unveil a brand, logo and tagline to drive people to the marketplace’s website for enrollment. An interim site will launch in about a month, Winer said.
Consumers can enroll in the marketplace Oct. 1 through Dec. 15 for coverage that begins Jan. 1, although the full open enrollment period for 2014 coverage extends through March 31.
The campaign will spend around $17 million on advertising via television, radio, newspapers, Internet, outdoors and transit.
By the end of September, FleishmanHillard will provide all the marketing materials to be used by 44 community organizations that were awarded $27 million in federal funds to help get the word out. In-person counseling for consumers will be available through these organizations.
“The goal is to have a consistent message, so it’s going to be very important that we work hand in hand,” Winer said.
The community groups and counselors give Illinois an advantage over other states’ ability to educate consumers about their coming marketplaces, said Karen Pollitz, senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit focused on health-care issues.
“Because Illinois decided they will work with the federal government to build out [the marketplace] and conduct this outreach, they’ve been able to tap into state implementation grants that Congress made available,” Pollitz said. “You’ll have a lot more money for that in Illinois than in most other states.”
Social media will be used, but not just for “pushing out information, but for interacting with consumers and using the information we get to inform the ongoing campaign,” Winer said. “It’s a great way for us to find out in real time what’s working and what’s not.”
The campaign will include a big focus on small businesses. Employers with 50 or fewer workers will be able to shop for coverage for their employees through the marketplace.
The state’s goal is to enroll 337,000 people from the individual marketplace and 149,000 from small employers the first year, according to Mike Claffey, a marketplace spokesman.
The timetable for Illinois’ marketing initiatives is on par with what’s being planned around the country, Pollitz said, adding that raising awareness nationally is a big challenge.
“Forty percent of the people we surveyed didn’t realize this was still the law of the land,” she said. “They thought it had been overturned or repealed. So there’s a big job to overcome that, and it’s about to begin.”