To be or not to be (covered)? Why ACA Enrollment Skyrockets Despite Marketing Rollback

Fans of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) can breathe a sigh of relief. In its first day alone, more than 200,000 consumers signed up for health insurance and the numbers have continued to rise. It’s been a tough year for the ACA and many anticipated this season would deal it another blow with 1 million+ fewer enrollees.

Marketing Cuts to Impact Enrollees

In August, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced a 90 percent decrease in spending for the ACA Navigator program and promotion for 2017 open enrollment, citing policy “failures” such as recent premium spikes and fewer insurance options. The cut brought the budget from the $100,000 used during the Obama-era to just $10,000, threatening an already rocky marketplace.

Proponents of the ACA feared the lack of marketing would lead to misinformation and confusion regarding the changes in 2017, such as the shortened enrollment period from twelve weeks to six. According to the Washington Post, the former chief marketing officer for said the biggest impact of these budget cuts would be the inability to advertise on television, which he accounted for nearly 40 percent of enrollments. Critics of the budget cuts have expressed fears that the lack of promotion would heighten uncertainty surrounding the longevity of Obamacare.

However, despite the rollback the first week of open enrollment has seen a surge of sign-ups. The Washington Post reports that more than 1 million people visited the federal website, an almost 30 percent increase from 2016. What is contributing to this year’s uptick in enrollments?

Obamacare Marketing Goes Independent

2017 has been a big year for the ACA. There have been several attempted repeals of the policy, which have been widely covered by mainstream and fringe media outlets. This coverage could be having a similar effect as previous advertising. However, there has also been a concerted effort this year to promote the positive impact of the ACA, and it is starting from the ground-up.

This year there has been an unprecedented counter-marketing movement happening primarily on social media. Former President Obama has continued to promote his health care policy by tweeting a short video to his 95 million followers about the start of open enrollment. This comes as a part of a grass roots coalition formed of former health officials, celebrities and health insurance companies that are taking the initiative to promote open enrollment. The nonprofit group, called Get America Covered, is getting the word out about the shortened enrollment period, health plan costs and government website maintenance that could potentially defer enrollees.

Celebrities are also using Twitter to promote signing up for insurance for 2018. Chelsea Handler, Rosie O’Donnell, Debra Messing and Alyssa Milano have been using the platform and #GetCovered or #GetUSCovered hashtags. The campaign, largely occurring on Twitter, could be an effective way to reach the young and healthy, an essential group for the success of the ACA.

Private insurers like Oscar, have taken it upon themselves to invest in advertising for open enrollment. One Florida insurer, Florida Blue, has released advertisements featuring adorable puppies to promote enrollment in Obamacare, raising the question, are puppies enough to encourage people to get health insurance?

Private insurers like Oscar, have taken it upon themselves to invest in advertising for open enrollment. Click To Tweet

Even with all these efforts combined, it’s difficult to say whether they have contributed to the booming start to this year’s enrollment period or if, similar to this week’s election results, it’s a referendum on the current administration’s health policy. But the real test will be to see if the momentum can continue through the next five weeks. Right now, it’s still too early to tell if more consumers will ultimately sign up in 2017 and the shortened enrollment period could negatively impact the numbers. But we’ll have to wait to see the final tally early next year.

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