Obamacare enrollment opens, launches local ad campaigns

Sunday, 05 November 2017, 05:52:35 PM. The administration announced in August funding for advertising for Affordable Care Act enrollment would be cut from $100M in 2017, to $10M in 2018.

Obamacare health insurance enrollment kicked off on Wednesday, with a drastically shorter enrollment period than in previous years. Consumers have just six weeks, rather than 12, to select their 2018 health care plan.

The enrollment period comes in the wake of President Donald Trump draining almost all funding to promote sign-ups, and decreasing the availability of “navigators” who help individuals and businesses shop the marketplace.

The administration announced in August that funding for advertising for Affordable Care Act enrollment would be cut from $100 million in 2017, to $10 million in 2018, and that funding for navigators would be cut around 40 percent.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 93 percent of Illinois residents were insured in 2016, up by 3 percent from 2013. More than 350,000 Illinois residents enrolled through the marketplace in 2017, according to the The Illinois Department of Insurance. The department expects enrollment numbers for 2018 to remain consistent, hovering between 350,000 to 380,000, as they have for three years.

The enrollment period ends Dec. 15.

The Department of Insurance hosted a press conference on Wednesday, announcing a partnership with GoHealth that will allow consumers to receive over the phone support from licensed insurance agents while shopping for coverage on Get Covered Illinois, the state’s online marketplace. The Get Covered website provides the all the marketplace options available on Healthcare.gov.

“We have taken some proactive steps this year to protect consumers as there has been quite a bit of uncertainty in Washington and for residents here in Illinois” department director Jennifer Hammer said in a release before the conference.

The department has launched an outreach initiative, partnering with community leaders statewide to share information about enrollment. The department will visit every county and has extensive advertising on television and radio stations, CTA lines and social media, funded through a $1 million state appropriation.

Also on the advertising front, two Democrats and a Republican are stepping up to fill the void. Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker is paying about $1 million to run radio and digital ads to run all across Illinois.

Former President Barack Obama has unveiled his own video to promote enrollment.

And even Gov. Bruce Rauner is joining in.

On Wednesday morning, Obama’s team released a video Obama made to encourage enrollment as part of a digital campaign.

In the video, Obama says, “Hey, everybody! It’s November 1, which means today is the first day to Get Covered for 2018. Healthcare.gov is open for business right now. You can shop for a health insurance plan that’s right for you and your family.

“It only takes a few minutes, and the vast majority of people qualify for financial assistance. In fact, 8 in 10 people this year can find plans for $75 a month or less. That’s cheaper than a lot of cellphone plans.

“And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer charge you more just for being a woman, or for having a pre-existing condition. That’s a good thing. It means they have to compete for your business. And with just a few clicks, you can easily compare health insurance plans to find one that fits what you need.”

Billionaire Pritzker is self-funding his campaign and spokeswoman Galia Slayen said the $1 million for the ads will come out of Pritzker’s campaign fund. Slayen said it is likely that Pritzker is the only candidate paying for ads to promote Obamacare enrollment.

Health care insurance is an issue that is likely to animate the Democrat base vote and potentially attract cross-over voters, a political reason GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has been mostly silent about Trump’s attempts to end Obamacare, has decided to use state resources to let people know about enrollment options that started on Wednesday.

“There are hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans currently benefiting from Obamacare, but one of Donald Trump’s strategies to kill the program is to make it harder to sign up. This year, he’s cut the period to enroll in Obamacare by half and cut advertising to tell people about it by 90 percent. We can’t let Donald Trump win,” Pritzker said.

According to Brian Gorman, Director of Public Education and Consumer Assurance for Get Covered Illinois won’t be heavily affected by federal cuts.

The two main facilitators of navigators for greater Chicago, the Patient Innovation Center and the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, have received the same amount of federal funding as last year. Illinois still has a total of 72 federally funded navigators.

Gorman said at the press conference that other areas of the state did see some funding cuts, but they were prepared.

“We’ve been planning for the day that the funding would be cut, so we’ve been partnering with providers and clinics,” said Gorman, who said 149 certified application counselors are available to help consumers statewide.

“When the government announced these cuts we knew that we would still have a workforce,” Gorman said.

When shopping on the Get Covered site, consumers can call the help line, which now has extended hours or if they prefer, they can click the “Make an Appointment” option and enter their ZIP code to schedule a meeting with a navigator near them.

If using the Healthcare.gov site, consumers can select “Find local help” for a list of assisters, agents and brokers. A search for the Chicago area turns up 1,728 results.

According to Hammer, there are many ways consumers can go about choosing their coverage and getting help.

Consumers can go directly to their insurance company’s website or to an individual insurance agent, can call the help line or use the local connector on Get Covered to get in-person or over the phone help, or can shop and select a plan on Get Covered or Healthcare.gov.

obamacare-enrollment-opens-launches-local-ad-campaigns photo 1

Illinois Department of Insurance Director Jennifer Hammer discusses Get Covered Illinois open enrollment efforts in the lobby of the GoHealth Enrollment Center on November 1, 2017. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

After the press conference, Hammer walked through the enrollment process of on the Get Covered site.

First, consumers create an account, entering their ZIP code, birthdate, family size, and information on tobacco use. They will then see all the plans available to them.

From there, consumers can filter plans to see certain deductible rates or specific companies, or they can select multiple plans and use the compare feature to find the best fit.

Once they’ve selected a plan, a new feature will trigger a pop-up notice to notify a user if they haven’t utilized all of their available tax credits.

In previous years, consumers on the Get Covered Illinois site were only able to look at plans on the exchange, now they can look at every plan. “We’re letting them shop at all the stores” Hammer said.

For help navigating the Get Covered website, call center agents can be reached at 866-311-1119 Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., except on Thanksgiving Day. The Healthcare.gov website is scheduled to be down for maintenance most Sundays during the enrollment period, but Get Covered Illinois will not be affected.

Open enrollment runs from Nov. 1 to Dec 15.

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