Former HealthCare.gov comms staffers fill in for the government with ACA campaign

Get America Covered is working to encourage consumers to sign up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

WASHINGTON: Former Obama administration staffers are filling the advertising void left by the federal government during this year’s Affordable Care Act open enrollment period.

Lori Lodes and Joshua Peck, former Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services communications staffers, launched Get America Covered, a campaign and nonprofit to ensure people are informed about open enrollment this year.

The Trump administration dramatically cut back the federal money going to advertising outreach for open enrollment this year. The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services’ budget for promoting open enrollment is 90% lower than 2016. The agency now has $10 million to advertise open enrollment, compared to $100 million last year.

"When it became clear that the [Trump] administration was not going to do what we did over the last three years, not even the bare minimum to make sure people know open enrollment was happening, we decided we needed to step in and try to fill the gaps," Lodes said.

Lodes was director of communications at CMS, where she led public education and outreach for HealthCare.gov during the second and third open enrollment periods. Peck also worked on HealthCare.gov as CMO for the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight and the Office of Communications at CMS. He focused on consumer enrollment and retention for HealthCare.gov.

Lodes said the organization has also brought on other former CMS staffers to help with the effort, that many of them were "basically refilling our former roles."

The two cofounders are using their combined experience with HealthCare.gov outreach to promote open enrollment in a similar way this year. The campaign includes outreach via national and local media, celebrities, social media, and even with a video from former President Barack Obama that echoed his previous social videos around open enrollment.

The campaign also has a significant local outreach aspect. Get America Covered is reaching out to local community leaders like mayors and governors, TV and radio stations, and working to get posters and brochures in places like a community’s local library or church.

Get America Covered is recruiting thousands of local volunteers to help get the word to as many communities as possible. The focus is giving these local sources basic information about open enrollment, like the changes to the deadline and information about the financial support available for some. Lodes said the team is working to make sure open enrollment isn’t portrayed as a partisan issue.

"People need constant reminders and need to hear info from multiple sources," Lodes said. "That is always strengthened when it's from somebody that's trusted; that’s why working with local news outlets is important. If we are going to come close to limiting the damage that will be caused by the administration not taking their responsibility as seriously as we think they should, it’s going to take a groundswell of activity."

Get America Covered is not alone in ACA outreach this year. Several companies and organizations are working to fill the gap, such as Oscar, which began an ad campaign in September to educate people about open enrollment.

The most important part of the outreach is ensuring people understand the ACA is still around. The campaign is also making sure consumers know the open enrollment period was shortened by more than a month this year to December 15 and that plans are often more affordable than some politicians say because of government subsidies.

"A lot of confusion is because for last 10 months we've had this debate whether healthcare should be repealed," Lodes said. "Quite a few out there think it has been repealed already or is going away in next year. The thing that combats that is getting the basic facts out there: the ACA is still the law, open enrollment has started, and financial help is available."

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