Apr, 10, 2020

COVID-19 Communication Best Practices for States

Julie Bataille and Alison Kruzel, GMMB

As states respond to the COVID-19 public health crisis, they are taking steps to ensure health coverage options exist for their residents. Through implementation of new and evolving policies, state agencies are promoting coverage options through COVID-19 Special Enrollment Periods and to those who recently lost job-based coverage, and highlighting how Medicaid is making it easier for people to enroll and keep their health insurance.

This is a critical time for agencies to conduct outreach and education, using clear information, enlisting stakeholders, and creating communication tools and resources to inform consumers, providers and carriers about steps they can take to access and deliver health coverage and care. As states and counties begin to track and report data on the trajectory of COVID-19, it is becoming clear that communities of color are disproportionately impacted. This demonstrates a growing and urgent need for concerted communications strategies and resources that prioritize the most effective channels, messengers, formats and languages to reach everyone—no matter who you are, or where you live.

Here are recommended communication strategies—and some examples—for how states can elevate coverage options and help ensure that more residents can access health insurance during these uncertain times.

Create a centralized hub for the latest information on COVID-19. Most states have now set up a COVID-19 page, typicallyhosted by Departments of Health or Governors’ Offices. Sites are a one-stop source of information detailing public health orders and state emergency declarations, tips to prevent spread, dashboards of cases and other data, links to CDC resources, state resources available for residents and more. Many agencies are sharing information through social media channels, e-newsletters and text alerts. For more information on best practices for creating state COVID-19 dashboards, see this SHVS expert perspective .

Coordinate across agencies to provide easy-to-find information on health insurance and COVID-19. Though states have COVID-19 pages, few include information on health insurance specifically. Whether it’s how to get coverage if you need it, what new requirements are in place to cover COVID-19 testing and treatment, or a reminder of what health plans cover all of the time, there is important information to put front and center for consumers. Residents should be able to learn about health coverage whether they’re on the state’s main COVID-19 page or visiting their state’s Marketplace, Medicaid or Department of Insurance sites. Also work with Departments of Labor to ensure there is health information available as people search for support after losing their job and job-based coverage.

Share updates, information and resources with stakeholders and outreach partners, tapping into virtual networks and sources of information where key audiences will be looking for information. Pushing updates to partners who assist with outreach efforts—especially those who are trusted in disproportionately affected-communities—can ensure that effective messengers are armed with evolving information. Social content, newsletters and online content can easily be leveraged across their channels as well. Email newsletters, audio and video conference calls, Google hangouts, toolkits and webinars can help enable this coordination.

Tailor information for specific audiences including consumers, providers and carriers.   There are multiple stakeholders and audiences impacted—and integral to response efforts—during this public health crisis. Making sure residents, health care providers and insurance carriers are clear on new coverage options, new requirements and covered benefits, and how to properly bill at this time, is critical.

Provide a range of communication tools—one-pagers, FAQs, webinars, stakeholder learning sessions, video content—to keep audiences informed and help spread the word. States are providing accessible and sharable content to raise awareness among consumers and providers, at a time when we’re inundated with information from lots of sources. Providing resources in multiple formats and languages, as appropriate for your state, helps ensure that everyone has the latest information regarding health coverage and how to get care.

Include health insurance information when promoting job opportunities and unemployment benefits. States are setting up job portals and sending direct communication to support residents who have lost jobs by connecting them with hiring companies and promoting unemployment benefits. These are key moments to also let individuals know about the low-cost and free health insurance available through Medicaid (especially in expansion states) as well as the financial help they may receive to purchase Marketplace coverage. Include information on how unemployment benefits may or may not factor into eligibility for programs and plans.

Leverage direct-to-consumer assistance. Maximize virtual consumer assistance and enrollment help. Prepare call centers for increased volume and updated information to respond to changing circumstances; enable telephone and virtual appointments with brokers and navigators and market these options to communities that traditionally rely on in-person help; and send direct emails, texts, and newsletters to provide enrollment support.

Push out relevant social content to promote coverage options, covered benefits, and public health tips. Examine planned posts to ensure a drumbeat of relevant original posts, graphics, video content, GIFs, and retweets/reposts to keep residents informed.

Utilize paid media, being mindful of audience consumption patterns and evolving platform rules surrounding COVID-19. Budgets permitting, paid media can be an efficient way to amplify coverage options in your state. Online and television channels have seen tremendous traffic spikes given stay-at-home orders, making these channels even more viable options to reach target audiences. Search is the most efficient paid media option to reach consumers actively seeking coverage information. Social platforms are defining and evolving policies about COVID-19 related-content and what entities can advertise so checking with individual platforms as you develop creative and finalize a media buy is especially important. 

Incorporate health insurance information across earned media outreach. Use daily press briefings, conference calls, and targeted reporter outreach to promote available coverage options. Remember specialty publications that are trusted resources in ethnic communities and business and other specialty publications that cater to audiences who may be especially feeling the economic impact of this public health emergency. Encourage reporters to include online links to the best resources for consumers to learn more.

To find examples of states putting these best practices into action, visit https://www.shvs.org/resource/communication/ and for the latest COVID-19 resources for states, visit https://www.shvs.org/resource/covid-19-resources-for-states/.