States get agency help as they move forward on exchanges

WASHINGTON: As the clock winds down before states must notify federal authorities about whether they will set up health insurance exchanges, several are making agency relationship moves.

WASHINGTON: As the clock winds down before states must notify federal authorities about whether they will set up health insurance exchanges, several are making agency relationship moves.

Maryland is on the hunt for a PR firm to promote its insurance marketplace, while Minnesota has hired one, and Arizona has let an agency go. Hawaii, Nevada, and Mississippi have yet to say which agencies they will hire to promote their exchanges. All three conducted competitive RFP processes for their accounts earlier this year.

The exchanges, mandated by the Affordable Care Act, are marketplaces where consumers will buy insurance and insurers will sell plans. States have until December 14 to notify the Department of Health and Human Services about their intentions. 

They can also choose to set up an exchange under a state-federal partnership, with a decision on that option due February 15. If they miss or ignore both deadlines, the federal government will run that state's exchange.

In Maryland, state officials are looking for a firm for a wide-ranging outreach effort that will include PR, social media, education and outreach, marketing, and advertising. The RFP has a budget of at least $2 million.

The winning firm will be responsible for media outreach across all platforms. It will also be required to develop and disseminate press releases and matte releases for a variety of media outlets including general, ethnic press, trade publications, periodicals, newsletters, and national publications. It will also media-train state officials, according to the RFP.

On the social media front, the contractor must develop a plan that will create a dialogue with uninsured individuals and influencers and recommend platforms suitable for various target audiences.

The state wants outreach efforts to target corporations as well as community and faith-based entities. It is planning for a tiered corporate outreach strategy to garner support from retail, sports and recreation, trade, labor, and non-profit organizations to reduce the number of uninsured citizens in Maryland, according to the RFP. The community and faith-based promotions will involve creating messages and materials for outreach workers, ambassadors, advocates, and partners to target culturally diverse and hard-to-reach populations.

In the past year, Weber Shandwick has helped the state with research, market analysis, and branding for the initiative. The new contract will focus on actual communications outreach, said Danielle Davis, director of communications and outreach at the Maryland Health Connection. Weber was paid $215,000 for its work, Davis added.

Pam Jenkins, president of Weber DC branch Powell Tate, said her firm will bid for the new contract. The deadline for agencies to apply is December 12.

“The goal is to reach the 730,000 uninsured Maryland residents and to educate them about the exchange,” Davis said.

The first open-enrollment period for the exchange will be October 2013 to March 2014. The state hopes 180,000 people will get insurance during that period.

After a nearly nine-month process, Minnesota has hired Himle Rapp & Company to plan promotions for its exchange. The contract, signed last week and set to end next month, is worth $34,000.

“Of those who submitted RFPs, we felt they were the most competitive and we felt they had an excellent approach for a strategic plan that would raise awareness among the public,” said John Pollard, legislative and communications director at the Minnesota Management and Budget Office.

The contract requires the firm to only plan outreach efforts, said Todd Rapp, president of Himle Rapp & Company. A separate contract will be needed to implement the plan, he added.

The initiative will kick off early next year. Before it can begin, Minnesota state legislators must determine how the exchange will operate, Pollard said.

Meanwhile, Arizona is ending its relationship with a firm after Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, decided not to move forward with an exchange. Advertising agency Moses Anshell was retained in case the state decided to go forward, according to federal records. However, its contract stated that if the state decided not to go ahead, the firm's contract would not be extended, according to the records.

A representative from Moses Anshell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As of Wednesday, 17 states and the District of Columbia have said they will create their own exchanges, while six intend to set one up in partnership with the federal government, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Last month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services hired Weber to raise awareness about state healthcare insurance exchanges that will be run by the federal government.

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