The Trump administration’s massive cutback on advertising and outreach for the upcoming health insurance enrollment period won’t have a huge effect in Oregon. That’s because here, the money for those efforts comes from the state, not federal government.
States have devised a number of ways to enroll people in health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Oregon operates under what’s known as a state-based marketplace that uses the federal enrollment platform. That means the state is in charge of getting the word out and helping people enroll, but Oregonians still sign up through HealthCare.gov.
“Where Oregon is in a better position than a lot of states that use HealthCare.gov is that we do have funding here at the state level,” said Elizabeth Cronen, communications and legislative manager for Oregon’s Health Insurance Marketplace, the state agency in charge of ACA outreach. “We have both the funding and the framework to do our own outreach and education to consumers.”
The funding in Oregon comes from a $6 per-member, per-month fee on health insurers for every medical policy sold via HealthCare.gov and 57 cents for every dental policy. That’s expected to amount to $9.25 million this year.
Four other states — Arkansas, Kentucky, Nevada and New Mexico — operated under the same format as of January, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Aug. 31 it would spend $10 million on advertising and outreach during open enrollment for 2018 policies, which begins Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15. That’s 90 percent less than the $100 million the Obama administration spent last year.
In previous years, Oregon has benefited from federally funded HealthCare.gov commercials and other ads that appear in the state, but those won’t happen this year, Cronen said.
To promote enrollment, Oregon’s Health Insurance Marketplace signed a $2.1 million contract with Portland advertising firm Grady Britton. More than half of that pays for ads featured on websites, social media, radio stations, newspapers and streaming services such as Hulu and Pandora. The rest is for strategy and creative development, events and outcomes analysis.
Given the cut in federal ad spending, Oregon’s Health Insurance Marketplace is considering spending more on ads, but a final decision hasn’t been made, Cronen said.
The state marketplace handed out $275,000 in grants to insurance agencies around the state, including four in Central Oregon, to spread the word about enrollment. Last year, the Marketplace gave $350,000 to insurance agencies.
Country Financial in Sisters and Bancorp Insurance in La Pine each received $5,000 grants to promote enrollment this year, half of the $10,000 they received last year. High Desert Insurance and Central Financial Services of Oregon, both in Bend, each received $10,000, the same amount as last year.
The state marketplace is increasing its spending from last year on community partner grants, which are typically given to agencies to help people enroll in policies. This year, about $370,000 in grants went to six agencies, none of which are in Central Oregon. That’s up from about the $316,000 that went to four agencies last year, none of them local.
Cronen said she did not know why no agencies in Central Oregon received community partner grants, but said it’s a competitive process.
Local insurance agents say they’re not concerned about fewer federal ads, but they are worried fewer people will buy policies during this year’s open enrollment window, which is roughly half as long as the previous two.
Open enrollment, the time period during which people can buy HealthCare.gov policies without a qualifying event, still begins Nov. 1, as it did in 2016 and 2017, but ends more than a full month earlier than in previous years.
“We don’t really have very much time to get to all our clients, let alone pick up additional clients and help more people,” said Henrik Jahn, the owner of Central Financial Services in Bend. “It’s really, really tough.”
If people wait until the last minute to enroll — as many typically do — Jahn worries no one will be available to help them locally or at HealthCare.gov’s phone bank.
Patsy Melville, the co-owner of High Desert Insurance in Bend, said in a way, the shorter enrollment period will make things less confusing: Everyone’s policy will begin Jan. 1, 2018.
“But, I don’t know, human nature is to procrastinate,” she said. “I hope that people are truly aware that December 15 is the final date as of now.”
Oregon has extended its open enrollment period in previous years, but only after HealthCare.gov agreed to do so first, Cronen said. Since Oregonians rely on the federal exchange, the state cannot decide to extend enrollment unless the federal government does, too.
— Reporter: 541-383-0304,