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Marketing Obamacare with less help from the feds

Elaine S. Povich, Stateline.org on

Published in Health & Fitness

The demand nationwide also appears high. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which administers the federal program, announced that 601,000 signed up on healthcare.gov during the first four days of open enrollment that began Nov. 1.

In Texas, where 16.6 percent of the population remains uninsured, the highest percentage in the nation in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, community groups are trying to take up the slack left by marketing cutbacks. Cover Texas Now, a coalition of consumer and faith-based organizations, is looking for volunteers to help with sign-ups.

Community groups also are involved. Michelle Tijerina, director of community outreach for Central Health, a community-based health organization that helps poor and underserved residents connect with medical care in Travis County (Austin) speculated that the compressed time frame may be driving early enrollments.

"We're just dedicating more staff and time toward the efforts because we have half the time to get it done," she said, noting that her agency's enrollments are also double what they were at the same time last year. But she is leery of translating that number to an eventual total.

"We hope it continues," she said. "We need double the number of people coming in in half the time as last year."

Her agency's budget of $600,000 for outreach is the same as last year, she said, and her workers are using some of that money to get the word out in schools, libraries, beauty shops, and on English and Spanish radio stations.

 

Steve Wagner, executive director of Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio, a progressive consumer health care group, said the lack of federal funding and publicity for his and other states is absurd, considering that private health insurance plans, such as those sponsored by employers, publicize their enrollment periods all the time.

"If you qualify for a subsidy, you really need to shop and look," Wagner said. "In Ohio there are counties where you can get a bronze plan for nothing."

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services would not disclose state-by-state registration numbers during the first days of open enrollment, but some states say sign-ups are going well.

The Trump administration's advertising cutbacks have no impact on states that run their own exchanges, because they've always had to come up with money to market their health insurance marketplaces.

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