White House Seeks Marketing Medicine for Health Care Overhaul

Health Care Overhaul Demonstrator
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

WASHINGTON -- How do you convince millions of average Americans that one of the most complex and controversial programs devised by government may actually be a good deal for them?

With the nation still split over President Barack Obama's health care law, the administration has turned to the science of mass marketing for help in understanding the lives of uninsured people, hoping to craft winning pitches for a surprisingly varied group in society.

The law's supporters will have to make the sale in the run-up to an election -- the 2014 midterms. Already Republicans are hoping for an "Obamacare" flop that helps them gain control of the Senate, while Democrats are eager for the public to finally embrace the Affordable Care Act, bringing political deliverance.

It turns out America's more than 48 million uninsured people are no monolithic mass. A marketing analysis posted online by the federal Health and Human Services Department reveals six distinct groups, three of which appear critical to the success or failure of the program.

They're the "Healthy & Young," comprising 48 percent of the uninsured, the "Sick, Active & Worried," (29 percent of the uninsured), and the "Passive & Unengaged" (15 percent).

The Healthy & Young take good health for granted, are tech-savvy, and have "low motivation to enroll." The Sick, Active & Worried are mostly Generation X and baby boomers, active seekers of health care information and worried about costs. The Passive & Unengaged group is mostly 49 and older, "lives for today," and doesn't understand much about health insurance.

The challenge for the administration is obvious: signing up lots of the Healthy & Young, as well as the Passive & Unengaged, to offset the higher costs of covering the Sick, Active & Worried.

Uninsured middle-class Americans will be able to sign up for subsidized private health plans through new insurance markets in their states starting Oct.1. Low-income uninsured people will be steered to safety net programs like Medicaid.
"The goal here is to get as many people enrolled as possible," Gary Cohen, the HHS official overseeing the rollout of the law, told insurers at a recent industry conference. Partly for that reason the first open enrollment period will continue until March 31, 2014.

Coverage under the law takes effect Jan. 1. That's also when the legal requirement that most Americans carry health insurance goes into force. Insurance companies will be barred from turning the sick away or charging them more.

The new law is mainly geared to the uninsured and to people who buy coverage directly from insurance companies. Most Americans in employer plans are not expected to see major changes.

Administration officials say they see an opportunity to change the national debate about health care. They want to get away from shouting matches about the role of government and start millions of practical conversations about new benefits that can help families and individuals.

It's harder to sell what is a pretty new idea for Americans while it is still in the abstract. I think as people experience it, they're going to love it.

The HHS marketing materials reveal some barriers to getting the uninsured to embrace the law.

The Healthy & Young lead busy lives and tend to be procrastinators. Plus, why would they need health insurance if they're full of vigor? The Passive & Unengaged fear the unknown and have difficulty navigating the health care system. The Sick, Active & Worried dread making wrong decisions.

Marketing for the new system will start this summer, going into high gear during the fall after premiums and other plan information becomes public.

There's already widespread concern that the new coverage costs too much, because of a combination of sicker people joining the pool and federal requirements that insurers offer more robust benefits. A recent study by the Society of Actuaries forecast sticker shock, estimating that insurers will have to pay an average of 32 percent more for medical claims on individual health policies.

The administration says such studies are misleading because they don't take into account parts of the law that offset costs to individuals and insurance companies, along with other provisions that promote competition and increase oversight of insurance rates.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who has long supported coverage for the uninsured, is predicting vindication for Obama once people see how the program really works.

"It's harder to sell what is a pretty new idea for Americans while it is still in the abstract," said Schakowsky, who represents Chicago. "I think as people experience it, they're going to love it, much like Medicare."

That will put wind in the sails of Democratic candidates. "I think it's going to be a very popular feature as far as the American way of life before too long," Schakowsky added.

But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky says Democrats have been predicting for years that Americans would learn to love the health care overhaul and that has not happened. McConnell had his picture taken next to a 7-foot stack of "Obamacare" regulations recently to underscore his disdain.

"I agree that it will be a big issue in 2014," said McConnell. "I think it will be an albatross around the neck of every Democrat who voted for it. They are going to be running away from it, not toward it."

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Beth Smith

So is there something for visitors visiting USA ? if they get sick how is responsible for their medical bill , visitor insurance companies do provide plans you can see some plans at http://www.visitorshield.com , would those plans be affected in any way ?

April 27 2013 at 6:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

ggggeeeeeeeeee whiz--put momma pelosi as the spokeswitch and let her DONATE the time and commercial fees--she's well able to afford it.

April 01 2013 at 12:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Watch. The same liberal hacks that scream about corporate giants & greed will embrace this marketing sham as an attempt to enlighten to poor uneducated masses even though it's nothing more than another big corporation sticking it to the little guy by trying to sell us snake oil.

April 01 2013 at 8:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Regime trying to sell their $hit, the same as the despicable Insurance parasites they shill for.

April 01 2013 at 5:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yes, don't bother to FIX the many problems it has and that it's already causing, just polish up the sales pitch to resell the same crap. Typical.

April 01 2013 at 4:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Obama care is supposed to go in full effect next year 2014. Obama and democrats have not done a good job explaining the new law. When they speak they talk in a cloud about how Obama Care is going to save all this money and make health care easly accessible with little or few modification on people's current health care coverage. The truth is that's all speculation, the same way Obama was going to cut the federal deficit in half by the end of his first term, the same way Obama stated that the stimulus was going to bring unemployment down to 5.5 by the end of 2012. Lets face it many of Obama's speculations have not materialized, why should anyone believe that Obama Care is going to be all the hype that it has been professed to be.

March 31 2013 at 11:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Lest we forget, when the White House makes promises-remember 'shovel ready' programs promised by Obama when he wheedled a trillion or so out of our wallets for the stimulus, 2009? Here's an article showing the 'success' of that marketing blitz by Obama http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0413/rhart.php3#.UVjOjny9KSM
If you get fooled by the Health Care marketing blitz after being fooled by the shovel ready stimulus marketing blitz, you are a liberal and an idiot.

March 31 2013 at 9:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If Obama care law was great it will not need to waste tax payer money to market its details to fool the american people.Good laws that benefit all americans doesn't need marketing since its good effect will be felt by every one.

March 31 2013 at 8:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Liberal propaganda cannot change the lousy details of Obama care law and its bad effects that will hurt majority of Americans that will pay more from their own pockets for health care and benefit the few while creating more government bureaucracy that control and hurt heath care of all americans . Obama administration is using marketing as a tool to fool American people and waste tax payer money .As usual this liberal marketing propaganda will ignore the fact that expanding medicaid program will increase the cost of original medicaid program by 10% ( the extra cost added to the original cost of medicaid program) that is paid by the individual states that expand medicaid program and that this states will raise taxes on its residence to cover for this extra cost or deficit will happen in this state budgets.

March 31 2013 at 8:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The article is well written. That said I still believe the ACA is a trainwreck going somewhere to happen. There's just so much lipstick you can put on this pig --- it's still a pig.

March 31 2013 at 7:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply