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Obamacare open enrollment for first week tops 600,000 despite scaled-back marketing

Florida Blue laps up enrollment attention through puppy video promoting plans.

Susan Morse, Senior Editor

Credit: Florida BlueCredit: Florida Blue

Open enrollment has topped 600,000 during its first week, 57,000 more than in 2015, despite limited marketing of open enrollment by the Trump Administration.

For the first week from Wednesday, Nov. 1 to Saturday, Nov. 4,  601,462 people selected plans on, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Of these, 137,322 were new consumers and 464,140 were renewing coverage.

[Also: ACA sign-up campaigns see varied funding between states]

The numbers are similar to the first week of 2016, which started on a Tuesday, and 57,514 more than the first week of 2015, which went from Sunday, Nov. 1 through Saturday, Nov. 7.

The numbers show continued consumer interest in getting covered through the Affordable Care Act as the administration and GOP leaders have repeatedly tried to repeal and replace the law or weaken it.

[Also: Trump administration ends cost-sharing reduction payments under ACA]

Insurers are working on having a month less for signups than in previous open enrollments, and without 90 percent of the federal promotional budget of past years.

One insurer's marketing department, Florida Blue, has captured attention and enrollment through a puppy video promoting its plans.

The video, in English and in Spanish, shows puppies froliking on the grass and the kicker, Florida Blue's "Affordable Plans."

"Puppies, they have the magic," said Darnell Smith, market president for the North Florida region of Florida Blue. "I do believe the public video is a hit. It actually has five times more views than any of our other videos. We have 2.24 million views of that."

Whether this translates into signups for the insurer's ACA-compliant health plans is yet to be known, according to Smith.

Smith said they were still analyzing the insurer's numbers for open enrollment during the first week, but predicted a strong enrollment period for the Blue Cross Blue Shield affiliate in Florida.

"We want members and prospective members to think about their health coverage the way people tend to feel about puppies," Smith said.

This year, folks have only 45 days to get everything done to get covered, he said, due to the shorter enrollment period that ends on December 15, rather than last year when members could sign up through the end of January.

Florida Blue has pushed its grassroots initiatives to be on consumers' radar for signups, but this actually began last year when the presidential election meant no one could get advertising time.

"Last year we didn't do a lot of marketing," Smith said. "Last year everything was dominated by the election. You couldn't buy a marketing opportunity."

Last year, Florida Blue's puppy video was in English. This year it's in Spanish to target Hispanic consumers, a fast-growing population for ACA plans.

Due to the federal government cutting the cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers offering ACA plans, Florida Blue increased premiums by 37 percent. But the state average was 44 percent, Smith said.

To offset this, Florida Blue created 12 new off-marketplace plans still   associated with ACA, but with lower premiums and many with higher deductibles.

The insurer, prior to the signup period on November 1, had about 900,000 members covered through ACA-compliant plans.

"We're anticipating a strong year for the ACA," Smith said. "People need to be covered. … I can never say never. As we stand here today I feel confident we are committed to remaining with this ACA."

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
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