The Campaign to Enroll America

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Coalition led by former White House official uses campaign-style tactics to reach uninsured Americans.

About 30 million uninsured Americans will soon be able to sign up for health insurance benefits, courtesy of the Affordable Care Act. Problem is, 78 percent of them aren’t aware that they qualify for the subsidized coverage.

A new nonprofit called Enroll America wants to change that. Led by an Obama campaign veteran, the group aims to get the word out about the expansion of coverage under the healthcare reform using micro-targeting and other tactics more normally found on the campaign trail or in the private sector.

A coalition of healthcare advocates, funded primarily by the healthcare industry and other philanthropies, started Enroll America in 2011. It intends to inform uninsured people across the country that they can start securing affordable health insurance this fall. The group has a big task ahead and not much time to achieve it – in October, uninsured people will be able to enroll in their state’s healthcare marketplace and start researching insurance options.

“If there ever was something that takes a village, it’s this,” Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America, told HealthBiz Decoded.

“There are millions of Americans who have no idea that these opportunities are coming their way,” said Filipic, who left the White House in January to run the organization. “Everyone has a role in that—the government, insurers, community-based organizations—and our hope is to be one voice that’s leading a major effort in that regard.”

Enroll America is partnering with existing organizations, businesses, community and religious groups, healthcare providers, and insurers in each state to reach out to eligible parties. Taking a page from the campaign playbook, the group will go grassroots. In addition to using paid advertising on TV and radio, it will try to target its message and methods at specific audiences, using trusted partners from various local communities.

Data and analytics also will play a big role in finding uninsured people to target with Enroll America’s message, said Filipic, who held various positions in the 2008 Obama campaign.

She most recently served as deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, having previously helped to win passage of healthcare reform while a senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Other tactics the healthcare campaign might use include social media or going door to door. Local and national celebrities, as well as other powerful voices, are also being enlisted to reach out to the uninsured and motivate them to enroll.

For example, young men comprise a large percentage of the uninsured population. Who is an effective messenger for them – their mother, it turns out, notes Filipic. So Enroll America will find ways to enlist mothers’ help in spreading the word.

Part of the difficulty with publicity stems from confusion about the new health insurance benefits, the vast scope of the new law, and the fact that much of the infrastructure for obtaining insurance is still under construction. States are currently putting together their healthcare marketplaces—or adopting the federally run marketplace—but it’s all a work in progress.

In 2014, most individuals in the U.S. will be required under the new law to carry health insurance or face penalties. To provide more affordable insurance options, states are signing up for the federal healthcare marketplaces or creating their own. Through these marketplaces, people will be able to research—in plain language, it is hoped—what is covered, premiums, claims payment policies, enrollee and participant rights, tax credit eligibility and more. They also will be able to research the various plans online, call in for help and view ratings of plans based on quality and price. The insurance and subsidies will kick in Jan. 1, 2014.

In conjunction with the work of Enroll America, HHS is doing its own outreach regarding new health insurance benefits. The department is building on past experience with outreach done when the government launched other large-scale programs like Medicare Part D drug coverage and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, said Julie Bataille, director of communications for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“We are moving forward aggressively to build the new health insurance marketplace,” Bataille told HealthBiz Decoded. “We are coordinating with federal agencies, states, and external partners to educate consumers and motivate them to enroll beginning Oct. 1, 2013.”

When it comes to informing people about the need—and opportunity—to sign up for health insurance, it will require an all-hands-on-deck approach. Whether it’s the government or trusted partners in each community, the multi-pronged effort will involve explaining options and resources for the uninsured now eligible for insurance, often for the first time.

“This is something that has the potential to impact millions of Americans’ lives in a real life-altering sort of way,” adds Filipic. “We’re mounting a campaign to reach out to these communities of people with a coalition-based effort, building upon the strengths of those entities and organizations already on the ground.”


Photo courtesy of Progress Ohio via Flickr