The controversial insurance exchange ads that some deemed offensive are being replaced this year with a new campaign that still aims to be funny — but less sensational.
“Last year we really needed to make a splash,” said Michael Marchand, communications director for the Washington Healthplanfinder insurance exchange. It was the initial launch of a marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act where people can buy discounted health-insurance plans.
“Last time we had a big hammer and a sharp nail,” Marchand said. “This time it didn’t need to be as sharp.”
This year’s more subdued message is: “It’s about time you got health insurance.” The TV ads and videos feature a man with a broken ankle and a woman with a mysterious rash trying to comically self-treat their conditions. The man tries to X-ray his ankle with a photocopier (he declares the diagnosis as “inconclusive”) while the woman spreads whipped cream cheese on her inflamed arm. The man eventually resorts to a bandage using rulers as splints, bubble wrap and duct tape.
The federally funded $4 million campaign will feature ads on TV, radio, online, the sides of buses, signs towed by bike messengers, and at public events. The TV ads start running Dec. 1. The radio ads will be broadcast in English and Spanish. Print material will be available in Chinese, English, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese.
The three-month open enrollment period began Saturday, and the exchange hopes to add 85,000 new customers buying coverage for 2015. By the end of the day Monday more than 10,000 people had completed insurance applications and 2,000 had scheduled their first payment, officials reported. It’s not clear how many of these were new or renewing customers.
In the first wave of signups, which ran from October 2013 until the end of March 2014, more than 164,000 people bought insurance through Healthplanfinder. By October that number slipped to nearly 140,000 enrollees. The reasons people dropped out include no longer needing coverage because they got insurance through work, qualified for Medicaid or Medicare, or opted to cancel their coverage.
As they did in the first enrollment period, the exchange is still targeting younger, healthier adults — the so-called young invincibles — in their outreach. This swath of the population is desirable as they tend to be cheaper for insurance companies to cover because they’re typically healthier than older people. In the exchange’s first year, approximately 23 percent of the customers were in the 18-to-34 age range.
“The humor is something we know the young invincibles can relate to,” Marchand said. The new ads star younger adults working, socializing and searching online to diagnose and treat their afflictions.
Marchand said there are multiple messages they want to convey, including that now is a good time get insurance and that there are people available to help consumers sign up. Brokers and people called “navigators” who are specially trained to help people maneuver the exchange website offer their services for free. The exchange also wants people to know there are tax benefits to reduce the price of monthly premiums and lower peoples’ out-of-pocket costs. Additionally, there are even more choices for consumers with 90 plans for sale through the exchange, though the selection varies based on where a customer lives.
The exchange is also partnering with the Spanish-language television station Univision to air a series of 30-second public service announcements targeting Hispanic residents. Univision anchor Jaime Mendez will conduct interviews with Spanish-speaking navigators. The campaign will air in Seattle and Yakima.
The second open enrollment period runs until Feb. 15. People who want their coverage to start on Jan. 1, must purchase their insurance by Dec. 23.
About two hours after the site went live on Saturday, officials with Washington Health Benefit Exchange took the website down to fix technical problems that were incorrectly calculating consumers’ tax benefits. They relaunched the site on Sunday and it appears to be working well, Marchand said. There are, however, lingering problems with the ability of the exchange to transfer payment information to insurance companies, making it appear that some customers have not paid their bills when in fact they have.
People who do not have insurance from an employer or through a program such as Medicare or Medicaid need to buy insurance through Healthplanfinder, or from a broker or directly from an insurance company. Most Americans who are uninsured in 2015 face a penalty of $325 per adult and $162.50 per child or 2 percent of their adjust household income — whichever is larger.