ACA Exchanges Debut Oct. 1 Amid Uncertainty

September 24, 2013

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Will the Likes of Paul Bunyan Attract Applicants?

Public understanding of the law could improve once state and federal efforts to promote the exchanges go full tilt. Ian Hill said the exchanges generally have avoided marketing themselves far in advance of the October 1 rollout because it is counterproductive to "to advertise something that's not there yet."

Hill said states that operate their own exchanges have mounted carefully designed and robust publicity drives tailored to their locale. Minnesota, for example, has adopted the mythical Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox as advertising stars for the state exchange called MNsure. The campaign's tagline also has a Minnesota flavor: "Land of Ten Thousand Reasons to Get Health Insurance."

The federal government has yet to launch a planned marketing blitz in the states where it operates exchanges. It has farmed out much of that job to public relations firm Weber Shandwick. Whether this company can match the creativity and tailored messaging found in the individual state campaigns remains to be seen, Hill said.

The states with their own exchanges have a fiscal edge when it comes to fielding navigators to help citizens enroll for coverage, added Hill. Last month, HHS awarded $67 million to more than 100 groups in 34 states with full or partial federal exchanges to put navigator boots on the ground. That money, Hill said, is spread thin compared to the navigator budgets in states in charge of their exchanges — $27 million for New York, $24 million for Maryland, $17 million for Colorado, among others.

Physicians can double as navigators for patients who stand to benefit from an exchange plan. Major medical societies such as the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, and the American Academy of Family Physicians have assembled patient education materials on their Web sites for that very purpose. The most comprehensive source of information on the exchanges, of course, comes from HHS itself on a special Web site called, appropriately enough,


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