As Trump Admin Rolls Back O’Care Outreach, New Group Tries To Fill The Gap

Supporters of the ACA stopped by Rep. Jackie Walorski's office to protest her support repeal and replace Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, in Mishawaka, Ind. (Santiago Flores/South Bend Tribune via AP)
Supporters of the Affordable Care Act gather at Rep. Jackie Walorski's office to protest her support of repeal and replace Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, in Mishawaka, Ind. (Santiago Flores/South Bend Tribune via AP)

A group of Obama administration alumni, celebrities, and health insurance industry leaders is launching this week an outreach campaign to spread the word about this November’s Obamacare open enrollment period.

Josh Peck, the former chief marketing officer for the Department of Health and Human Services, says the effort is meant to help mitigate the damage of the Trump administration’s gutting of Affordable Care Act outreach, severing of outreach partnerships, and shortening of the open enrollment period.

“We’re of the mind that if the administration makes it clear they won’t take open enrollment seriously, we have to step up and get the word out,” he told TPM. “There’s a huge chasm between what we’re able to do and what should be done, and what was done last year. But [the Department of Health and Human Services] has set the bar so unbelievably low this year for outreach that even a relatively small organization can move the needle and have an outsized impact.”

The campaign, called “Get America Covered,” will entail a mix of creating toolkits and other materials for groups helping sign people up for health insurance, partnerships with businesses, local governments and non-profit groups, and targeted digital advertisements.

“Since we’re not at HHS anymore, we don’t have access to the data needed to be able to do the most effective targeting possible,” Peck explained. “But we know from running open enrollment in past years that there are a bunch of types of digital advertising that target people effectively.”

A main tactic, he said, was targeting people who search online for information about health insurance. “It’s a great way to find and enroll people, and it was a major source of enrollment last year,” he said. “We are almost certain that because of the budget cuts at HHS, the government’s use of it will certainty be heavily curtailed this year.”

Though the group is continuing to fundraise, it only has “a growing six-figure budget” so far—a tiny fraction of the $100 million-plus the Obama administration spent promoting open enrollment in 2016. Though it acknowledges it can never “fill that gap” (for instance, it doesn’t anticipate being able to afford to buy TV airtime), the group says it aims to focus its resources on a big push just before the Dec. 15 deadline—which is a full six weeks earlier than the deadline last year.

“We know that communication the week or two before deadline is really important, and it’s probably an order of magnitude more important than normal this year because of the change,” said Peck.

Joining Peck in the effort are two other alumni from the Obama administration’s HHS—former CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt and Lori Lodes, the former director of the office of communications at CMS—as well as former Obama administration “green jobs czar” Van Jones, former insurance company CEO Mario Molina, and the actors Alyssa Milano and Bradley Whitford.

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