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Consumer Education Still No. 1 Priority This Open Enrollment Season

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Consumer education is a priority in ACA open enrollment

Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, recently cited what he believes are the five biggest challenges going into this year’s open enrollment period:

  1. Those who are still uninsured say the biggest reason they have not gotten coverage is because they believe they can’t afford it.
  2. Many of the uninsured are unaware that the penalty for going without coverage will increase substantially.
  3. Personal assistance was essential in getting the uninsured enrolled last year, which means even more assistance may be required for those who continued to go without coverage.
  4. News media are the primary source of ACA information for the public, and since news coverage has died down, so has the discussion regarding enrollment and coverage.
  5. People who enrolled in coverage the first year will be auto-enrolled in their same plan for year two – but they’re unaware that they can reevaluate their coverage to ensure it meets their needs (and choose a different plan if it doesn’t).

These challenges paint a pretty clear picture: as was the case with the first open enrollment period a year ago, many people are simply not educated about the new healthcare law and what it means for their own coverage needs – that they are now required to get coverage and will be penalized (even more harshly than last year) if they don’t. Taking a step back, there are still plenty of uninsured people who have trouble understanding healthcare itself – what it is and why they need it, let alone that that there are options to choose from and price points to consider. And then there are the consumers who know they must be covered, but still don’t know where to start or how to get help.

There is a solution, however, to proactively addressing most of Altman’s challenges: instead of simply “marketing” their plans, payers need to become educators so that consumers can become better healthcare shoppers.  If your website has a subsidy calculator, the “new to insurance” demographic may be surprised to know how affordable coverage can be. Personal assistance may mean getting your marketing materials in shape via easy-to digest chunks, and making sure that you clearly explain the meaning of commonly used insurance terms.  Have a narrow network attached to one of your plans?  Don’t hide it – there should be no “buyer beware” mindset. It should be full disclosure on those details (it will only hurt you in the end if consumers claim “they didn’t know”). It also means that you can’t assume your target will find you – you may have to go to your target (here’s an excellent example of one major insurer doing just that, quite literally).

These efforts, if done well, will go a long way in educating the uninsured about their healthcare options and building awareness of a health plan’s services and products. Through strategic marketing initiatives, including content marketing, social media marketing, direct mail and media buys, among other methods, insurers can provide valuable information and guidance to the people who need it. (To complement these efforts, an insurer would be wise to make sure it has the staff and resources available to answer questions on a timely basis on multiple and accessible consumer channels. People can’t be helped if they can’t get help to begin with.)

To be clear, there were many insurers who were ahead of the game last year that did a good job boosting their marketing and communications well before (and during) the first enrollment period. But there are new challenges this year… the ACA has cooled as a hot political topic, so insurers will need to find new ways to spark the conversation.  And the fact that 7 million people did sign up last year means insurers have at least 7 million more educated consumers on their hands who may have already become a bit more clear on what their needs are, and may want a plan to better satisfy them.  Your marketing team and materials need to be prepared so they don’t go elsewhere.

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