Covered California rolls out publicity campaign

covered+californiaCovered California, the Golden State’s Affordable Care Act exchange, has rolled out a new publicity campaign timed to its third enrollment period.

Expanding the exchange

Officials have set their sights on increasing enrollment by upping the public profile of the state exchange, which has struggled in years past to fully connect with potential customers. “There are 750,000 California residents without insurance that are eligible for Covered California,” according to CBS San Diego, with an estimated 2.2 million uninsured Californians eligible for subsidized coverage through either Covered California or Medi-Cal. According to the Los Angeles Times, the total population of uninsured Californians sat at around 4 million. “Of those, officials estimate that 1.4 million would qualify for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income residents.”

This time around, added the Times, an informal goal has been set to sign up 295,000 to 450,000 more residents over the three month enrollment period. “We want to make sure all uninsured Californians know that financial help is available to help people buy health insurance and that they can join thousands of Covered California consumers who are getting the care they need when they need it,” said exchange chief Peter Lee, as CBS San Diego noted.

Hoping to avoid service problems that plagued the exchange in previous enrollment periods, Covered California has also moved to staff up its telephone operators. “The scramble is on for up to 500 temporary call-center workers to answer questions and help enroll consumers,” the Sacramento Business Journal reported. “Virginia-based Faneuil Inc., in partnership with InSync Consulting Services in Roseville, won a $12 million contract for the business early this month.” Last year, however, the size of that contract hit $14 million.

Keeping subsidies central

Subsidized care has emerged as a centerpiece of Covered California’s effort to get and keep new enrollees. Officials believe that widespread public ignorance around subsidies has limited signups. “One of the biggest hurdles,” Lee told the Sacramento Bee, “is that more than a third – 36 percent – of uninsured Californians don’t realize they’re eligible for financial subsidies, according to a recent survey. That compared with 84 percent of uninsured who were aware of the existing federal tax penalty for going without health care coverage.”

But the vast majority of plans have already benefitted from subsidies. “Covered California has 1.3 million consumers, about 90 percent of whom receive subsidies to help cover their premiums,” the Times noted.

It was unclear how many Californians were aware that the so-called tax penalty — the controversial centerpiece of the Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act — was set to increase this year as well. “Under the federal health care law, those without health insurance in 2016 may be subject to a federal tax penalty, which starts at $695 per person in a household or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is greater,” the Bee observed. “For a family of four earning $70,000 a year that chooses not to purchase health care coverage for 2016, the tax penalty could be $2,085, according to Covered California.”

Target markets

Rather than belaboring these details, however, the new Covered California publicity tour has been designed simply to draw the uninsured into beginning the signup process. “Starting this week, hundreds of buildings and storefront locations will feature spotlights that say ‘Enroll Now’ over the Covered California logo to raise public awareness about the opportunity to get health coverage,” according to News Medical.

“Additionally, many iconic buildings throughout California — the Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento city halls; the San Diego Convention Center; the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport; Coit Tower in San Francisco; and Sacramento’s Tower Bridge — will light up with the Covered California colors for specific nights during the first weeks of November to bring additional attention to open enrollment.”

Officials have also heightened their emphasis on increasing minority enrollment. Hispanics have been targeted in the past, under the assumption that families with varying degrees of immigration legality might be reluctant to sign up. “There’s an emphasis this year on African Americans,” the Bee reported separately, “who represented only 3.6 percent of enrollees last year.”

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