Insurers Gear Up to Attract Obamacare Customers

Monday, 06 May 2013 01:31 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Health insurers are gearing up for campaigns this fall and summer to attract skeptical clients to register for coverage under Obamacare, even though they fear the costs of signing up too many already-ill people when the federal law goes into effect.

"I don’t think I know anyone in the insurance industry that supported the Affordable Care Act," insurance industry consultant Robert Laszewski, a former insurance executive, told Politico. "But Obama’s right, we’re joined at the hip now."

Obamacare's insurance exchanges could potentially mean millions of new customers for health plans, as tax credits will help them pay for their insurance. But if enrollment in October is too confusing and only the very ill sign up, insurers could be left to foot large bills without being able to spread the cost.

According to polls, many Americans either remain confused or oppose Obamacare, and insurers say they will do what they can to get their message out.

Insurers are starting to spread the word to existing and potential new customers, and will vary it depending on whether the customer's state is handling the insurance exchange, or if they are allowing the federal government to do it. In addition, not all insurers will operate in every state.

But as the enrollments start on Oct. 1, the government and insurers alike will need to battle many challenges when it comes to helping the public sort out options, including convincing those who are adamantly opposed to the new health care law.

"The insurance industry has not been historically one of the best for communicating easily or efficiently with the public," CIGNA spokesman Joe Mondy said.

"Neither has the government, for that matter. That’s a goal for both."

The health plans will have bronze, silver, or gold member benefit levels, mandated by the government, so insurers will need to compete in terms of price, reputation, and benefits.

Insurers will likely be aggressive, said Joel Ario, a managing director of Manatt Health Solutions and former director of the Health and Human Services Office of Insurance Exchanges. He said most people tend to stick with the same insurer, and it's not easy to get them to change their minds.

And the public may not respond to the new rules quickly.

"I think the people that will join will largely be low-income subsidy people, who have an opportunity to get healthcare at a very affordable rate that they otherwise would not have gotten," said Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini.

Price will also be an obstacle, as both Obamacare supporters and opponents agree that rates will likely climb for many Americans, even though they'll be offset in party subsidies.

The government will also join in the education effort this summer, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, including an effort on how to sign up for the exchanges and Medicaid expansion.

Enroll America, a nonprofit supported by Obama’s Organizing for Action, is aggressively lobbying insurers to help educate the public.

"There is a very intensive effort taking place now to try to increase the commitment of the insurers about helping with the overall enrollment process," said Ron Pollack, founding board chairman of Enroll America. "That includes making financial contributions to Enroll America.”

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