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Open Enrollment For Obamacare Is Here, But Where Are The Ads?


October 25, 2013

Whether you represent a Medicare Advantage Plan or not, if you work for a healthcare advertising agency, you're likely aware that the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period has begun. That's because insurance companies contracted with the federal government have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to attract people to join their Medicare plans. They run print ads in newspapers, online ads, and advertising on daytime television. (They love "Price Is Right!"). The investment is worth it too. For each member a Medicare Advantage plan enrolls, the federal government pays the plan about $1,000 a month or more as a monthly premium to provide healthcare. That's $12,000 per year! No wonder the Medicare plans are so aggressive with their advertising, right?

Of course, you don't have to work for a healthcare marketing firm to know that we're also in the midst of open enrollment for individuals seeking coverage made possible by the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. We've heard countless news reports about the failures of www.healthcare.gov – how it can't handle the volume of users trying to shop for health plans. We've seen TV ads promoting healthcare.gov, and we've seen ads for the insurance exchanges set up by those states that elected to create their own websites. We've also read lots of articles about what the costs and benefits of the health plans will be.

But where are the ads for the health plans themselves?

As the principal of a Miami ad agency and Miami public relations firm, my expectation was that the rollout of the new health exchanges would bring a torrent of advertising from Cigna, Aetna, Prudential, and tons of regional players seeking to encourage enrollment in their plans. After all, these companies have invested their own fortunes to develop competitively-priced plans for the individual insurance market. However, the ads haven't appeared…at least not yet. But why?

Do the insurance companies want to wait and see how the first year's enrollment process goes? Do they assume price sensitivity and benefits will guide consumers' purchasing decisions?

Or do they simply not see the market as a potentially profitable one? Is it that they foresee the first wave of individuals signing up for insurance will be those with preexisting conditions and other "high utilizers?" Is it that they believe the young invincibles – those healthy folks whose presence in the insurance pool makes Obamacare possible – will say "no thank you" to individual coverage?

If my cynicism is on the mark, then it points to another possible truth…about Medicare plans. Perhaps the dollar amounts paid to Medicare Advantage plans is just too high. If the Medicare population is worth chasing with multi-million dollar advertising campaigns, but the individual insurance market is not, then perhaps we the taxpayers need to ask ourselves why we're paying so much to Medicare Advantage plans. Maybe answering this question will help all of us down the road toward reducing healthcare costs for everyone.