The Trump administration may be largely sitting out promotional efforts for the 2018 health insurance open-enrollment season that starts Nov. 1, but states, insurers, and advocates are trying to fill the void during a shorter sign-up period than in past years.
The Pennsylvania Insurance Department, for example, announced a $100,000 media campaign with internet video, television, and radio advertisements, and social media to remind consumers that Affordable Care Act open enrollment runs from Wednesday through Dec. 15 — not until the end of January, as was the case in previous years.
"This enrollment period may be the only chance to shop for insurance," acting Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman said. She noted that federal officials have announced that Healthcare.gov, the website consumers must use to get financial assistance with their premiums, will be shut down for maintenance every Sunday from midnight until noon, except on Dec. 10.
The backdrop for the expanded effort by Pennsylvania officials is a sharp decrease in federal promotional spending for the 2018 open-enrollment season. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in August that it would spend $10 million on promotion during the ACA 2018 enrollment period, down from $100 million for the 2017 season. Additional cuts were aimed at navigators, groups officially designated to help consumers enroll.
For the second year in a row, the Insurance Department has an arrangement with Consumers' Checkbook to help people in Pennsylvania compare plans and determine whether they are eligible for financial assistance. The federal website can help consumers find local insurance agents or advocates who assist in getting insurance.
Independence Blue Cross, the only insurer selling plans on the exchange for the five-county Southeastern Pennsylvania area, said it boosted marketing and education this year to help compensate for the reduced federal promotion and the shorter enrollment period.
The company's Independence Express, a mobile education and retail center, is scheduled to travel throughout the region every day except Thanksgiving. The schedule is available at http://events.ibx.com/independence-express. Additional help is available online at ibx4you.com, which includes a subsidy estimator.
In New Jersey, a coalition of health-care providers and advocacy groups formed CoverNJ to help consumers sign up for insurance in the next six weeks. The New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance has created a 2018 Buyer's Guide.
Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the
state's largest insurer, also said it was responding to federal cuts by putting what it called "unprecedented resources" into outreach, including the expansion of its footprint at malls throughout the state and hosting regular grassroots education events.
Horizon's Blue to You vans will visit more than 15 locations during open enrollment to answer questions and provide enrollment help (details at http://events.horizonblue.com). Spanish-speaking representatives will be available Monday through Saturday at Horizon Connect, a retail center staffed by trained agents in the East Gate Square Shopping Center in Moorestown. Horizon also has published a guide to 2018 plans.