After a painful two-month pause, the campaign to enroll people in Obamacare is finally beginning in earnest.
Confronted with a massively dysfunctional website in early October, the White House, HHS, outside advocacy groups, and insurance companies were forced to significantly scale back their respective plans for promoting Obamacare. Not only was HealthCare.gov not working well enough to promote, but sending people to the website would make its problems worse.
So they waited. And now, in what is perhaps the best sign that the website is actually functional, the various stakeholders are pulling those promotional plans off the shelves and beginning to implement them.
The challenge: instead of two and half months to get people to sign up in time for coverage on Jan. 1, 2014, they now have about three weeks.
President Obama urged supporters to “spread the word” Tuesday in the first speech of a three-week series. Enroll America, one of the biggest groups that is attempting to enroll people en masse, is launching its own outreach campaign this week. Insurance companies are reportedly planning big television ad buys of their own to reach the huge pool of potential new customers.
The law starts in a significant hole. Enrollment in October was one-fifth of what the White House was aiming for. Even after the administration gave itself a one-week extension to sign people up for coverage that starts in January, that leaves less than three weeks until that Dec. 23 deadline arrives. Enroll people after that and they have to wait until February for their coverage to kick in.
So with HealthCare.gov finally fixed, according to the administration, all interested parties are gearing up for a mad December dash to get the health care reform law back on track.
“We see the next few weeks as a good time educate and mobilize consumers, not just because of the website improvements, but because of the upcoming deadline to enroll for coverage that begins on January 1,” Enroll America press secretary Justin Nisly told TPM.
The group, which is so closely tied to the White House that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has sought donations on its behalf, is applying a full-court press — a reflection of the urgency that the law’s supporters are feeling with that Dec. 23 deadline approaching quickly. Enroll America’s new three-week campaign launches this week, right in line with the administration’s own three-week coordinated effort.
More than 10,000 volunteers will hit the ground in the 11 states that Enroll America is targeting, holding more than 1,000 events to reach people. The group is also planning to reach back out to 50,000 people with whom it’s already had contact to encourage them to take a second shot at enrolling.
The advocates won’t be alone: Insurance companies are also planning an advertising blitz this month.
As the Washington Post has reported, industry watchers expect insurers to spend up to $1 billion on advertising in the next two years — and much of that is expected to begin this month and be concentrated through March, the end of the open enrollment period.
“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,” WellPoint Chief Marketing Officer Patrick Blair told AdAge in October.
And lastly, with the declaration that HealthCare.gov is finally fixed after its disastrous launch, the Obama administration is getting back into campaign mode. Democrats will be extolling Obamacare’s benefits, urging people to sign up for coverage, while simultaneously decrying the Republican effort to repeal the law, which they say would then take those benefits away. Hill Democrats are regularly conversing with the White House to coordinate on their messaging, according to BuzzFeed.
“We need people now that we’re getting the technology fixed, we need you to go back and take a look at what’s going on because it can make a difference in your lives and lives of your families,” Obama said Tuesday at the White House. “If you’ve already got health insurance or already taken advantage of the Affordable Care Act, you’ve got to tell your friends and family and tell your co-workers and tell your neighbors.”