After delay, Idaho exchange to begin ads Dec. 20

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho’s insurance exchange will begin its paid marketing campaign around Dec. 20, a delay of more than a month.

Still, don’t expect to see Your Health Idaho television advertising over Christmas. Consultants told the exchange’s board Thursday that holiday TV spots were too costly, so this initial advertising will concentrate instead on radio, Internet and newspapers.

The exchange’s $3 million-plus ad campaign was pushed back due to massive problems signing people up for coverage via the federal healthcare.gov website that Idaho’s exchange is using this year for enrollment.

Exchange spokeswoman Jody Olson told board members that uninsured people, the key audience for President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law, remain largely unaware that Idaho even has its own exchange. Consequently, she said, it’s important to begin as soon as possible with marketing aimed at building awareness and encouraging people to enroll in coverage by March 31 — or else face a tax penalty.

“The key message is the official nature of the state-based exchange that’s run here in Idaho and that we’ve got agents and brokers in the state” to help, added Susannah Buckley-Green, an exchange consultant from Illinois.

The exchange’s television advertising isn’t due to begin until late January, Buckley-Green said.

Thursday’s board meeting came a day after Your Health Idaho director Amy Dowd announced that the number of state residents who have selected policies rose five-fold from October, to 1,730 through Nov. 30. Dowd expects enrollment to accelerate, especially after Dec. 1 fixes to the healthcare.gov that have helped streamline enrollment.

“We’ll see those numbers increase on a regular basis,” she said.

That’s borne out in some preliminary numbers provided to The Associated Press by Blue Cross of Idaho.

Through Nov. 30, Blue Cross says it sold about 950 exchange policies, or more than half the total from the four companies offering health care plans via the exchange in the first two months.

Between Dec. 1 and Dec. 20, however, Blue Cross said the total number of policies it sold rose quickly to about 2,500.

“It’s pretty clear that things are working much better right now,” said Blue Cross spokeswoman Karen Early.

Even so, the exchange remains a work in progress.

For instance, federal “back office systems,” including those needed to pay insurance companies providing the coverage, aren’t completed yet.

Additionally, Idaho’s exchange has no idea if the policies sold, so far, have been dental plans or health care coverage. They are sold separately.

Another concern: Carriers including Blue Cross and PacificSource aren’t sure if they’re getting accurate data to confirm that people who believe they’ve signed up for a plan actually completed the process.

“PacificSource has received enrollees,” conceded Dave Self, PacificSource’s senior vice president of marketing and one of the exchange’s 18 board members. “I can’t tell you if that number is right.”

Zelda Geyer-Sylvia, chief executive officer of Blue Cross of Idaho, also had lingering fears about the veracity of information coming from healthcare.gov.

“We have gotten files. They have been transmitted. They have gone through our system,” Geyer-Sylvia said. “What we don’t know if there are people who have been hung up and think they’ve actually completed the process” but haven’t.

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