We’re Calling the Play: Ready, Set, Enroll!

 The Affordable Care Act’s second open enrollment period starts tomorrow! On Saturday, November 15, millions of Americans can begin enrolling in and renewing their quality, affordable health coverage through the Marketplaces. Consumer health advocates and enrollment assisters have been planning for months, further developing the strategies they employed last year to reach the remaining uninsured and assist them with enrolling in coverage. To view the immense impact of their work last year, please watch our video: Getting to Covered.

 They are up to the task and will use innovative tactics, tools and tested messages to meet the goal for this open enrollment period.  Like a head coach before kickoff, we know advocates and enrollment assisters are fine tuning their game plans for this open enrollment season. Perhaps the biggest difference for this season is that advocates and enrollment assisters have two important audiences during this enrollment season: 1) the currently enrolled who need to renew and 2) the remaining uninsured. To reach these groups, we’ll have to use two playbooks.

Playbook 1: Helping Insured Consumers with Renewals

While recent research shows that the majority of consumers who enrolled last open enrollment season are satisfied with their plan, this same research also shows that most of the currently-insured are unaware of the renewals process. Though many consumers will be auto-enrolled in their 2014 plan, the features and benefits of their plan may change beginning in 2015, as well as the amount of financial assistance they may receive. To help ensure consumers enroll in the plan that best meets their needs, advocates and enrollment assisters should encourage currently-insured consumers to review the features of their current plan. In addition, we should work with people who have Marketplace plans to update their information so they continue to receive financial assistance. Lastly, consumers who need to renew should be encouraged to shop around to see if a different plan better meets their needs. Since the currently-enrolled value their coverage and are motivated to keep it, helping them renew hinges on letting them know what they need to do and when.

Playbook 2: Reaching the Remaining Uninsured

While the uninsured rate has dropped from 18.1 to 13.4 percent, which is the lowest uninsured rate since 2008, there are still millions of uninsured Americans in need of affordable coverage. Recent focus group research concluded that the remaining uninsured are less motivated to enroll than the those who were uninsured last year. In addition, they report that cost remains their main barrier to enrollment. However, many of the remaining uninsured are still unaware of the availability of financial assistance to help pay for the cost of premiums and cost-sharing obligations. Messages emphasizing that low-cost plans and financial help are available, as well as in-person application assistance, will be most effective at galvanizing the currently uninsured to explore their Marketplace plan options.

Knowing messages about financial help and in-person assistance are the most likely motivate consumers, what are the best ways to spread this message? Last year we learned that meeting consumers where they are, such as local, highly-frequented venues within the community, was a highly-efficient approach to reaching large amounts of community members in a small period of time. Additionally, using trusted messengers to spread enrollment messages, such as faith leaders, local or ethnic media sources, and family members, was a successful strategy to ensure those messages resonated with consumers. Lastly, lifting up the voices of those who’ve successfully enrolled through story banking can be a compelling way to motivate the remaining uninsured to explore their options.

Having groups of consumers with distinctly different enrollment needs is a change from last year’s open enrollment period, but the tools to achieve both goals are already in the hands of those who contributed to open enrollment’s success last year. Spreading the word about things that matter most to consumers – the renewal process, financial help, and in-person assistance – and using these messages by building on last year’s successful  tactics and strategies, is the playbook to follow to ensure millions of Americans gain or keep quality, affordable health coverage.