CHICAGO: Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans around the country are taking it upon themselves to launch awareness efforts about the Affordable Care Act because their research has shown most uninsured consumers don't know how the law will affect them.
The newest effort, “Be Covered Illinois,” will kick off Monday. Health Care Service Corporation, the operator of Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in Illinois, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, is overseeing the initiative. Its goal is to explain the new health insurance options available under the law to uninsured residents.
Health Care Service Corporation will work with community-based organizations and partners to get the word out. Beyond partnership-building, the effort includes media outreach, a website, text messaging outreach, social media, neighborhood events, and a strategic alliance with impreMedia, the nation's largest Spanish-language newspaper chain.
As part of that partnership, a special bilingual supplement will be developed and distributed to more than 1 million families across the state.
HCSC launched a similar effort last month in Texas. Hill+Knowlton Strategies is supporting both campaigns. No budget information was released for either initiative.
The Be Covered Illinois outreach materials are “lightly branded” and focus on educating rather than selling. None of the materials have links to HCSC's commercial sites, said David Sandor,
VP of public affairs and corporate communications at the provider.
“To start, there is a very clear separation between church and state in which we first focus on educating people so they can become better consumers of products,” he said. “Then, beginning late summer or early fall, we'll likely launch a more marketing-focused outreach effort.”
Blue Cross outreach in states like Texas, where the state government has declined to support the Affordable Care Act, is especially critical because providers are worried about how residents will get the information they need to comply with the law's insurance mandate.
The federal government expects most uninsured consumers will get coverage through exchanges, which are marketplaces where consumers can compare and buy insurance plans. Enrollment via the exchanges is scheduled to begin in October.
Texas has opted out of running its exchange, instead allowing the federal government to oversee the effort. Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Oklahoma made similar decisions, which is part of the reason some plans have launched, or are about to debut, campaigns in these states.
Last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services hired Weber Shandwick to create promotional materials and strategies to raise awareness about federally run insurance exchanges. That contract was worth $3.1 million.
The key to a successful outreach effort in non-participating states is to keep communications as apolitical as possible, said John Maginnis, VP of corporate communications for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana.
His plan recently launched the Louisiana Healthcare Education Coalition, which, like Be Covered, focuses on partnership-building to raise awareness grassroots-style about the law. Allison+Partners is supporting that effort.
“This is not about politics, not about policy; this is about education, and that's what's needed in this state,” Maginnis said.