Health Insurance Marketplace Advertising to Target Young Americans

On October 1, 2013, health insurance marketplaces in every state will open to enrollment for millions of eligible Americans. The marketplaces are online exchanges that will provide individuals and families with information about health insurance and their eligibility for Medicaid. People will be able to compare different insurance plans based on price, benefits, quality, or other features, and can obtain coverage for essential health benefits effective January 1, 2014. For the exchanges to provide low premiums to participants, young and healthy adults must enroll, along with the elderly and infirm.

The health insurance marketplaces are being created as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) (P.L. 111-148). The secure websites will verify the eligibility of users to receive federal subsidies assisting in their purchase of health insurance. Based on income and other factors, individuals and families may qualify for aid on monthly premiums or copayments and deductibles.

Because 78 percent of uninsured Americans are not aware of the marketplaces, many entities are creating advertising to educate the public. Marketers include the federal government, state governments, insurance companies, community groups, health clinics, grassroots organizations, and pharmacies. At least $684 million will be spent nationally on publicity, marketing, and advertising; the majority of advertising is aimed at disengaged young people, the working poor, and people who gave up costly insurance plans because they could no longer afford the premiums.

Creating the message of the advertisements is proving challenging. Television commercials in Colorado uses the slogan “When health insurance companies compete, the only winner is you.” The tagline is crafted to appeal to Coloradans who like competition, along with commercials showing actors shopping for health insurance before winning a large prize. An ad campaign in Chicago picked “Don’t Just Get By” as its catchphrase for commercials starring real people sharing their health stories. As it gets closer to October 1, expect to hear these slogans on television and radio and to read them on billboards, brochures, and online advertisements.

Campaigns are taking unusual routes in appealing to Americans between the ages of 18 and 25. Research shows that young adults often sign up for health insurance or other similar programs because a parent or other family member urges them to. A nationwide campaign from the Obama administration will target mothers about the importance of having their children enroll. Further, a senior adviser to the president met with celebrities including Amy Poehler, Kal Penn, Jennifer Hudson, and Michael Cera. Representatives for Oprah Winfrey, Bon Jovi, Funny or Die, Alicia Keys, You Tube Comedy, and the organizers of the Grammy Awards were also present. The stars have volunteered to help promote the marketplaces to their fans. White House officials hope the celebrities will especially use social media in outreach to uninsured young people.

Many commercials will direct people to HealthCare.gov, which will help individuals and small businesses understand the choices available through the marketplaces. The website will be expanded after October 1 to allow people to create accounts, complete an online application, and shop for qualified health plans. Whether the ad campaigns work remains to be seen, but it won’t be for lack of funding if they fail.