Marketing a State Insurance Exchange: Q&A With the Agency Behind Access Health CT

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Before the Affordable Care Act, Connecticut had 337,000 uninsured residents. Reaching those people has involved broadcast advertising in English and Spanish, major and culturally-niche newspapers, billboards, and posters in convenience stores, clinics, beauty salons and barbershops.

Connecticut’s was one of the nation’s most aggressive exchange marketing plans, understandably, as the state is often called “the nation’s insurance capital.” But it wasn’t the only success story, as red state Kentucky fared pretty well too.

“This plan, for us, is the biggest campaign I think you’ve ever seen,” Connecticut Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said during a press conference in June 2013 announcing the launch of the marketing campaign.

That same month, a Kaiser Foundation poll found that more than half of the uninsured population was unaware that insurance exchanges did or would exist.

Two months into insurance exchange open enrollment, we spoke to Kyle MacDonnell, principal at Pappas MacDonnell, the marketing and communications agency responsible for marketing Access Health CT in Connecticut.

As of mid-November, 7,092 individuals have enrolled in private plans while 5,224 signed up for Medicaid.

We asked MacDonnell about the experience of marketing a state health insurance exchange before and after the marketplace opened.

Q: What were the goals in the marketing of Access Health CT, Connecticut’s online marketplace?

A: Our primary goals for Access Health CT were developing awareness, education, engagement and enrollment among various residents across Connecticut. More specifically, the goal for health plan enrollment is 100,000 people by March 2014.

Q: How far in advance did you roll out the marketing?

A: Our planning began late January 2013 and the roll-out started almost immediately. We had community meetings throughout the state designed to educate and inform people about the Affordable Care Act. The cadence of the marketing increased each month leading up to the October 1, 2013, launch.

Q: How did you calculate how much of an investment would be appropriate for the target population?

A: This was challenging as it was an entirely new program with no baseline or precedent. Our marketing funnel started with the total number of those eligible which ranged from uninsured folks eligible for tax credits to those that may seek better coverage even without tax credits. Initial budgets were based on the number of paid enrollees desired, and typical historical acquisition funding levels in the insurance industry. Of course that information comes from well-established and well-known brands in the industry – not from a completely new and unknown buying exchange.

Q: Was the effort successful, in your estimation?

A: We’re barely two months post-launch so it’s still very early in the program, but so far the response has been very positive. Part of our strategy calls for continued improvement based on our daily learning, so we refine and adjust as we move forward.

Q: Why do you think it was effective?

A: Management of Access Health CT built and launched an enrollment site that worked from Day One – a significant accomplishment that set us apart from much of the noise about the federal site’s challenges.

From a marketing view, I’d boil it down to intense integration and multiple channels with varying approaches. And some of those approaches have been very unique. For example:

• We’re the only state to have opened Enrollment Centers – physical storefronts a bit like Apple stores – where people can just stop by to get information or get personal help enrolling.

• We’ve conducted an extensive community outreach program with hundreds of events and enrollment fairs to meet with people where they live.

• A combination of TV, radio, digital and mobile compliments the efforts in billboards, buses, and door hangers – all aimed at creating awareness and driving toward key enrollment dates.

• Social media and text messaging help get out time-sensitive information and build momentum.

• And the website continues to perform really well allowing thousands and thousands of Connecticut residents to enroll online. While we are continually refining and improving, Access Health CT already has earned several notable accolades: Time Magazine rated its ads among the “Very Best” in the Affordable Care Act effort citing “most consistent” messaging. And a survey of 700 consumers found 82 percent “extremely likely” or “very likely” to recommend Access Health CT to a friend or colleague so that’s a great measure of success.

Q: Is your marketing effort ongoing, post-October 1?

A: Absolutely. This will continue for several months as open enrollment doesn’t end until March 31, 2014. We have a second wave of marketing support underway now, and several new initiatives that will debut in January.