Marketing key to Get Covered Illinois’ success

Staff Writer
Chillicothe Times-Bulletin

 Sixty percent of Illinoisans don’t know about the new health insurance marketplace which was rolled out Oct. 1 to help the state’s uninsured get health coverage, according to a survey released Sept. 30 by the Commonwealth Fund.

That’s a problem and something the state of Illinois is going to have to work overtime to address if the marketplace is to be successful here.

The test began Oct. 1 as Illinois begins open enrollment through the marketplace.

Illinois’ marketplace, or “exchange,” is named “Get Covered Illinois.”

It’s part of the federal Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” an ambitious initiative that requires most Americans to have insurance coverage or pay fines.

Every state will have an insurance marketplace where consumers can comparison shop for insurance and see if they qualify for tax credits to help cover the cost.

Coverage begins Jan. 1 for people who sign up by Dec. 15 through the exchange.

After that, they can still enroll through the end of March to avoid penalties for 2014.

Through the marketplace, no county in Illinois will have fewer than 57 plans available for purchase; however, premiums will vary by region.

Few details have been made available so far about deductibles, co-pays and most premiums.

About 1.8 million Illinoisans, or 15 percent of the population, are uninsured.

An estimated 1 million Illinoisans who currently have no health insurance will be able to be covered for the first time either through the marketplace or through an accompanying Medicaid expansion.

That makes Get Covered Illinois the largest new social service program in the history of the state.

Most Illinoisans probably haven’t heard of Get Covered Illinois yet because the name just was revealed last week when state officials began putting out information about the marketplace.

Marketing is going to be a key to getting the exchange off the ground.

State officials have embarked on a $33 million advertising campaign to promote it heavily and get qualified people to use it to enroll in health insurance.

They will target three groups of Illinoisans: people who had insurance in the past but lost it, people who never could afford insurance because of cost or pre-existing conditions and young, healthy adults who don’t think they need insurance.

Their clear challenge lies not only in getting the details into the hands of the target audience, but also in demystifying the program and battling a barrage of politically fueled misinformation aimed at consumers.

And it won’t be long before scam artists set up copycat Internet sites with an eye on defrauding unsuspecting Illinoisans searching for insurance for themselves and their families – yet another challenge for state officials.

“Our target audience finds insurance intimidating,” Jennifer Koehler, director of Get Covered Illinois, told The State Journal-Register editorial board. “We really want to minimize people being bounced from agency to agency and phone call to phone call.”

Obamacare is certain to experience glitches along the way, but its success in Illinois will hinge in no small part on officials’ ability to get the proper information into the hands of the right people.

— GateHouse Media Illinois