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California, other states prepare to promote health insurance

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Monday, Jul. 29, 2013 - 3:08 am

Barns, crab-fishing boats and beach bonfires create the backdrop for Portland-based musician Matt Sheehy's performance of the Oregon health care exchange anthem, "Long Live Oregonians," in a recent ad.

"We're free to be healthy / gonna breathe our fresh air / want to get the best care / that a state can get," Sheehy croons in the Cover Oregon spot that debuted in early July.

With just a few months until state health care exchanges open to enrollment Oct. 1, Oregon and other states have begun elaborate marketing campaigns to promote their insurance marketplaces to consumers.

In one Nevada ad, a young man says that even though he "live[s] fast and play[s] hard," being uninsured scares him. Another pictures a single father embracing his daughter. Connecticut's commercials include bright orange bubbles with captions like "change is affordable" floating across the screen.

Convincing those in need of insurance to sign up – especially healthy young adults – is crucial to the ultimate success of federal health reform.

In California, the state auditor noted last week that until individuals and families start enrolling, there is no way to estimate whether Covered California's revenue will be able to support its operating costs.

California had originally planned to launch its public education campaign in July, but since has chosen to delay its push until closer to the fall launch.

Ogilvy Public Relations will handle Covered California's outreach and media relations, and Weber Shandwick will focus on its paid advertising. The auditor estimates the exchange will spend $106 million on outreach and marketing in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Its first job will be overcoming widespread public uncertainty and lack of knowledge about the program.

A study of consumer focus groups in California last November found that 35 percent of participants said they felt unsure about changes to the health care system.

The study, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago in November 2012, included both insured and uninsured Californians from all over the state. Many participants said they felt they didn't need insurance or that it was too expensive.

They fit into several demographic segments that Covered California will target in its marketing efforts – "just getting started," "independent and connected" and "calculated risk takers." All three segments include young adults, a group that generally has a high likelihood of being uninsured.

The "just getting started" demographic covers 18- to 24-year-old adults. "Independent and connected" consumers include more affluent adults in their late 20s and 30s, and "calculated risk takers" have even higher levels of income.

In materials distributed to the exchange's Marketing, Outreach and Assistance Advisory Group, Covered California said changing "the perception of insurance as an unaffordable burden to a good deal that has real benefits" would be the key to successful marketing.

Anne Gonzales, a public information officer at the health exchange, said the efforts will also be "multiethnic and multi-language."

The same focus on educating consumers also appears in other states' marketing campaigns.

Rebecca Armstrong, managing director of advertising agency NORTH, said the general lack of public understanding allowed her agency to plan the first ads as a debut for Cover Oregon. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 22 percent of Americans had heard at least some about the health care exchange in their state.

To pick a theme song for the health exchange, Armstrong said she asked Oregon musicians to write a song they would want elementary school children to sing for the next 50 years. The catchy "Long Live Oregonians" was the final selection.

"We're starting from the base of knowing that awareness of Cover Oregon in Oregon is almost nothing," Armstrong said. "Our primary job is to make everyone aware of Cover Oregon. We saw this first round of advertising as a hello, an introduction to the brand."

Components of other states' efforts seem particularly targeted at young people.

Connecticut's health exchange, Access Health CT, plans to advertise at Lil Wayne and Miranda Lambert concerts and hand out sunscreen at local beaches. Kentucky's Kynect health exchange will make pit stops at several bourbon and craft festivals this summer.

Nevada's print adverting campaign features several versions of the same ad, some picturing families and others picturing single young adults, to cater to all demographics.

Kathy Tallarita, outreach coordinator at Access Health CT, said marketing and outreach efforts focus on "highly uninsured populations," such as low-income neighborhoods and young people.

"We're treating this as a campaign," Tallarita said. "We're going to be doing door-to-door campaigning in the key ZIP codes of densely populated uninsured."

Tallarita said Connecticut also plans to open storefronts operating on the "Apple store model," where consumers can ask questions and get more information about their coverage options in person.

These marketing efforts will likely find a receptive attitude from young adults, according to Molly Ann Brodie, senior vice president and director of public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Despite contrary perceptions, Brodie said her research shows most young adults view health insurance as very important.

"What this suggests for the open enrollment period coming down the pipe is that there is a very willing environment among young people to get more information and to hear these marketing efforts," Brodie said.

Though this positive attitude gives health care exchanges an in with a younger demographic, she said marketing campaigns will still have to combat a public largely in the dark about the Affordable Care Act.

"It's a really important time for outreach and consumer information and education," Brodie said. "These marketing efforts will be reaching an audience that is very interested in health insurance, but that is also very confused about what the health care law means for them."

Call Annalise Mantz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5545.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Annalise Mantz



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