Outreach and Communications Innovations During OEP 2021
Julie Bataille, GMMB
States Meeting the Moment
States have risen to meet new and unforeseen challenges during this year’s annual open enrollment period (OEP) by implementing new marketing and communications tactics that provide valuable lessons learned as ongoing work to get and keep consumers covered continues in 2021. Enrollment numbers show an ongoing demand for health coverage as states put in place innovative ways to make sure consumers know options to consider. HealthCare.gov enrollment figures suggest a net increase compared to last year, and state-based marketplaces are also faring well, showing consumer demand and value for health insurance. For example, Connect for Health CO enrollment is trending higher compared to last year, MNsure saw a 4 percent increase during their OEP, and Washington Healthplanfinder saw a surge approaching the deadline for 2021 coverage.
Despite the success of open enrollment, ongoing economic conditions will likely mean that more individuals will need marketplace coverage because of job or coverage loss. States will need to be cognizant of the ongoing work that will need to be done throughout 2021 to assist with enrollment, especially now given that the Biden administration opened a new special enrollment period (SEP) for states using healthcare.gov. New polling continues to show consumers experiencing increased financial strain – especially amongst young adults, Black and Hispanic populations. Over half of the public has delayed or reduced spending as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a third report a negative impact on savings, and about one in five have had a work-related impact. Furthermore, nearly 8 in 10 individuals (78 percent) say the COVID-19 pandemic is a significant source of stress in their life.And behaviors continue to follow patterns that seen earlier this year, as the surge in time spent online continues to rise throughout 2020. The average daily time spent consuming online content is now six hours and 59 minutes, which includes phone, TV, and other forms of digital media.
This OEP served as a reminder that messaging and tone must acknowledge the realities for consumers—be reflective of the job loss environment, acknowledge the pandemic by doubling down on peace of mind, and a focus on equity across messaging and tactics. These needs will continue as special enrollment periods kick in.
During open enrollment, state-based marketplaces engaged a wider variety of partners than years past, as the pandemic offered natural opportunities to partner with state agencies and services that consumers were relying on for other resources.
Covered California partnered with top medical groups, physicians’ associations and their members to reach Californians with important messages promoting COVID-19 safety, including urging Californians to stay home, wear a mask and get insured. The marketplace mailed masks to members and more than 50,000 doctors on the front lines, asking them to wear their Covered California masks, so the message of being covered reaches their patients.
And Access Health Connecticut leaned on partners whose resources were in demand from consumers during with the pandemic. The state partnered with Foodshare to raise awareness about coverage in the state, promoting via images on social media.
Building on the effective tactics realized in past OEPs, it is important to continuously evolve social media strategies to incorporate the latest available features. New York State of Health employed interactive polling on Twitter to give consumers another outlet to engage with the marketplace.
As states move to opening special enrollment periods, they could also consider utilizing Instagram’s new Guides feature to provide comprehensive information about COVID-19 resources to the public. This resource would encompass not only health coverage information and enrollment opportunities, but also resources across other state departments (i.e. information on COVID-19 testing, unemployment insurance, food banks, etc.). This feature offers a tangible way to bolster recent partnerships with state agencies.
This year, state-based marketplaces also took advantage of shifts in consumer behavior and placed their media buys to reflect where consumers were spending more time. Several states increased budget allocations on digital placements and tried new platforms to reach audiences in different ways. For example, Maryland Health Connection placed ads on Twitch, a video game streaming website, to reach the “young invincible” audience in particular.
In addition to digital placements, states recognized that maintaining some level of out-of-home presence was important, but shifted these placements to reflect the current environment. Hand sanitizer stations in New Jersey were placed in independent grocery stores, pharmacies and bodegas in high uninsured areas of the state to raise awareness about Get Covered NJ in a way that was especially relevant during the pandemic.
These innovations demonstrate a need to continuously adapt to a changing environment. They can provide lessons to carry over into special enrollment periods as the impacts of the pandemic and job loss remain in 2021, and leveraged in future years given the increasingly digital world post-COVID-19.