Supporters and advocates of the Affordable Care Act say they
learned lessons from last year's sign-up effort, when they persuaded a few
million uninsured people to buy coverage. They plan to incorporate those
lessons into the marketing campaign for the next enrollment period, which
begins in mid-November.
A Tougher Audience
More than eight million people got private insurance for
2014 through the law's insurance exchanges, which were plagued with technical
problems when they opened in October 2013 but stabilized toward the end of the
six-month sign-up period. It isn't yet clear how many of those people were
uninsured previously as opposed to switching plans, but several recent
polls have suggested a noticeable dent in the number of U.S. uninsured,
which totaled about 50 million people before the law's passage.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected
that 13 million people will use the exchanges this time around, five million
more than did in 2014. But advocates won't have as much time to reach them
because the enrollment period is shorter, starting in mid-November 2014 and
ending mid-February 2015.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal
agency in charge of implementing the law and operating exchanges for the states
that declined to set up their own, says it plans to make tweaks to its
marketing message. CMS officials said that they believed the aggressive
marketing campaign around the launch of the insurance marketplaces last year
was effective and that people who saw the ads were more likely to know
about HealthCare.gov and shop for coverage.
Meanwhile, Enroll America, a coalition of the law's
supporters and sign-up activists, plans to step up in-person assistance after
realizing how important that was last year. The group says it will launch an
online tool to tell people where in their area they can find this kind of help.
Using the Stick
Enroll America may make other changes to its strategy after
a study it commissioned from PerryUndem Research/Communication, a polling firm
frequently used by health-law supporters, found that as many as four in 10 of
the newly enrolled said they wouldn't have signed up for coverage if the law
hadn't required them to.
Supporters of the law previously had played down the health
law's mandate in favor of emphasizing the quality and affordability of
available health plans, saying they preferred using carrots instead of sticks
to persuade people to sign up. Now they've concluded the mandate has to be part
of the conversation. The fine for not having coverage is $95, or 1% of family
income, this year, but it is set to grow to $695 per adult, or 2.5% of family
income, by 2016.
Even with the retooled marketing campaign and its emphasis
on deadlines and testimonials, some groups remain worried about the timing of
the 2015 enrollment period.
Tax-preparation firms such as Jackson Hewitt Inc., which
played a big role in helping people enroll last year, say the shorter sign-up
period overlaps significantly with the holiday season, when people are
distracted and financially stretched.
The tax firms also say that some uninsured people may not
realize they have to pay a penalty for 2014 until they come in to file their
returns in April. At that point it will be too late to enroll for 2015.
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