Grassroots campaign draws uninsured to exchange

May 1, 2013

The marketing tools include bilingual websites and printed materials that partners can co-brand

Insurance companies are facing a rushed timetable to participate in Affordable Insurance Exchanges that will offer one-stop shopping to millions of Americans and to small business. By October 1, they must have new products developed and approved, and a new way to sell products to a target audience that has likely never purchased insurance.

Their marketing departments are scrambling.

As one example, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas in March launched Be Covered Texas, a grassroots campaign designed to work with community-based organizations such as schools, religious institutions and doctors to reach people where they live, work, learn, worship, text and tweet. Right now, the goal is to simply build awareness about the exchanges.

 “We conducted a lot of research into the uninsured populations in our four states and found a tremendous degree of confusion and lack of awareness of changes that are coming,” says David Sandor, vice president of public affairs and corporate communications for Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in Illinois, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Sandor says the company decided to take a two-pronged approach. They will address the business opportunity through traditional marketing later and the educational opportunity now through Be Covered Texas and similar initiatives in the other three states.

The marketing tools include bilingual websites, printed materials that partners can co-brand and use, supplements in bilingual newspapers, and educational events with community organizations.

“Our program was designed to partner with anyone who might have an existing relationship with an uninsured individual to help them connect with easy to understand information about the upcoming change,” he says. “We felt these would be credible partners but many lacked the sources in terms of content as well as the financial resources to scale communications in the way necessary.”

Sandor says the goal is to help people become prepared to make the right choices. As a not-for-profit, the organization’s mission is to expand access to care for as many people as possible, he says.

The company felt it couldn’t wait for insurance exchange materials from the federal government, or even approval of its proposed insurance plans. Sandor isn’t even sure when BCBS will receive approval or when he can start marketing the actual products. Still, they felt they needed to start some promotion now.

 “I would argue that even we are a bit late to the party, considering October 1 is the enrollment date,” he says.

Few exchanges have launched awareness campaigns. California recently announced it would hire 500 people for its call center for Covered California. Meanwhile, the federally operated exchanges will begin their awareness campaigns this summer, according to federal officials.

Sandor says that “the worst thing that could happen is that people do not show up in open enrollment. You need to have large numbers of people in order to manage your risk effectively. This is especially important in an exchange environment, where we have managed benefits and have to price those and can’t underwrite as we have in the past.”

Initial reaction to Be Covered Texas was enthusiastic, with thousands of people responding to the campaign in the first month. However, Sandor admits that it’s hard to assess the numbers because no one has marketed insurance exchanges before. Still, he says, “We’re very encouraged by the response.”