While the Obamacare debate rages in the Washington budget battle, most Americans are seeking clarity on what the Affordable Care Act means in practical terms. Health insurers are lining up to help.
By focusing their early marketing efforts primarily on education, health-insurance companies are hoping to take advantage of the law's complexity to lure new members to their plans.
"We need to not only protect our turf, but we've got to acquire our fair share of the new market that's up for grabs, because a segment of consumers are going to be looking to different sources for information," said WellPoint Chief Marketing Officer Patrick Blair.
Starting Oct. 1, people who don't have health insurance through an employer can enroll in and purchase a plan through a marketplace "exchange" run either by a state or the federal government. While Americans are not required by law to purchase their insurance through an exchange, it's estimated that about 7 million will choose to do so between next week and March 31, when the open-enrollment period ends.
"You're really going to see people spend more [on marketing] throughout this period," said Lindsay Resnick, chief marketing officer at KBM Group, a marketing firm that's working with several health-plan providers, including six Blue Cross Blue Shield clients, on campaigns involving digital and TV.
Digital is a major piece of the educational push. UnitedHealthcare Group offers "a 10-minute guide to health reform" on its website to help potential members understand the changes and health-care options available. Cigna Corp.'s guide, "Five Minutes to the Right Health Care Plan," is intended to help consumers "cut through the clutter" by answering five simple questions. Wellmark BlueCross BlueShield has a website called Ask Blue that focuses on costs.
Lisa Lough, VP-customer acquisition at Cigna, said the guide is part of an integrated multichannel direct-response marketing campaign during open enrollment, which also includes TV, radio, display, search and print. Cigna used Fly Communications for the direct-response creative and strategy and Generator Media for the media buy.
Ms. Lough said one of its big challenges is helping first-time insurance buyers, including young adults and diverse ethnic groups. "Social media is, of course, an important vehicle for reaching younger demographics," she added.
Most campaigns are aggressively targeting millennials with digital marketing, while direct mail is being used to reach out to Americans over 55, said Mr. Resnick.
Both regional and national insurers are spending on TV and radio ads at the state level because plan offerings vary by state. For example, 12 companies will offer coverage in the individual exchange in California, while 16 plans will be offered in New York.
Contributing: Alexandra Bruell