NEW YORK (Reuters)—President Donald Trump’s 90% cut to Obamacare advertising has U.S. health insurers in many states digging deeper into their pockets to get the word out about 2018 enrollment, which opened last week.
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Independence Blue Cross, a health insurer in Pennsylvania, has commissioned a tractor-trailer truck to bring insurance consultants out to shopping centers and other neighborhood spots around Philadelphia.
Centene Corp., best known for its Medicaid health insurance, is expanding TV and print advertising for Obamacare as it ventures into three new states: Kansas, Missouri and Nevada. Tech-savvy newcomer Oscar Health has four different TV commercials running in six states including Texas and Ohio that espouse “easy health insurance” with video shots of patients text-messaging with Oscar.
Trump cut $90 million in advertising and outreach spending for the 2018 enrollment period, which opened on Nov. 1, part of his promise to let Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law “implode” until Congress can repeal it. Republicans say the Affordable Care Act, the law that created Obamacare, drives up costs for consumers, while Democrats warn that millions of Americans will be left without healthcare if it is dismantled.
The advertising serves two roles: It helps draw in the young, healthy customers who keep overall member costs down and it addresses confusion among many people over whether the subsidies that help make coverage affordable to many and Obamacare itself still exist in the wake of Trump’s actions.
The government’s advertising budget is now just $10 million for the 39 states that rely on the federal Healthcare.gov website to enroll consumers. The 11 states that run their own exchanges, like California and New York, set their own advertising budgets.
“Our member plans are generally ramping up their efforts to kind of plug that hole,” says Kelley Turek, an executive policy director at industry lobbyist America’s Health Insurance Plans. “A decrease of $90 million is a big hole to plug.”
News headlines about changes in the government’s support of Obamacare and Trump’s tweets have raised fears that all program subsidies are ending. The government has also cut the enrollment period in half, to six weeks.
Adding to the confusion, insurers like Anthem Inc have sharply raised monthly premiums on the most popular Obamacare plans to account for reduced government funding, or pulled out of dozens of U.S. counties. As a result, many Obamacare customers may need to change health plans for 2018, either to work with a different insurer or in response to price increases.