HHS promotes open enrollment with the help of retailers, malls, websites

January 21, 2015

With the launch of two open enrollment cycles behind it, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has turned its attention to promoting HealthCare.gov with a growing list of partners.

While some businesses are at odds with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage mandate, others are partnering with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)  to get the word out about open enrollment.

On “Black Friday” weekend, HHS specialists manned booths inside Westfield Corp. shopping malls to answer questions from consumers seeking information about enrolling in the federally sponsored healthcare marketplace.

 With 38 shopping centers in eight states that are home to retail destinations including Bloomingdales and Costco, Westfield receives more than 360 million customer visits annually. The company donated space, tables and chairs for HHS to provide education and outreach to consumers through February 15.

“In the spirit of public service, and consistent with our centers’ role as community gathering places, ongoing hosts for community and civic activities such as voter registration, polling places and more, Westfield is happy to offer our centers as venue for this HHS outreach and education initiative and for shoppers who wish to avail themselves of the opportunity to learn more,” said Westfield spokeswoman Catharine Dickey.

For the still-controversial healthcare marketplaces, mall kiosks staffed with healthcare navigators and assisters alongside holiday elves isn’t merely a sales gimmick. It’s part of a strategic effort to target consumers where they live, work and play, said HHS.

“We’ve seen a lot of research that shows that folks who don’t have insurance want to get insurance, but the vast majority didn’t know that an open enrollment season was here,” Rhett Buttle, HHS director of private sector development said. “Malls made a lot of sense. When the opportunity arose to work with Westfield, we thought of announcing the partnership around the holiday season--the biggest shopping time of the year.”

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In addition to Westfield, HHS has enlisted the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) to spread the message about the enrollment period. Members of the NCPA, a lobbying group of more than 23,000 independent pharmacists, interact with small businesses during shopping events and with consumers through routine visits to neighborhood healthcare providers.

“Pharmacists are on the front lines of getting the questions about the Affordable Care Act,” Buttle said.

In connection with online shopping events, HHS launched a public education campaign about the healthcare marketplaces with existing partner, XO Group, Inc. a company that provides information for newlyweds and new parents on websites that include theknot.com, thenest.com and thebump.com.

“We’ve been thinking a lot about folks in particular situations where healthcare sort of pops up as a major part of their life, so that’s our strategy in working with the XO Group,” Buttle said.

HHS also has placed open-enrollment content on the job search site Monster.com and career networking site LinkedIn.

“As we’ve done our work in year one and now going into year two of open enrollment there was a recognition that we needed to engage partners across the country to really reach people where they are getting their information,” HHS spokeswoman Erin Siedler said.

HHS also has partnered with 7-11 Inc. to place messages promoting open enrollment on receipts issued to customers when they use the in-store PayNearMe bill-paying service. Because the receipts serve as a consumer’s proof of payment for such things as rent, loans and utilities, they are more likely to be scrutinized and retained than a traditional receipt, according to HHS.

Receipts invite consumers to call the federal health exchange or visit healthcare.gov.