The clock continues to tick down toward Oct. 1, when enrollment opens in state-run health exchanges under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
As we examined three weeks ago, there are a lot of factors yet to tackle to ensure that health-insurance enrollment for individuals runs smoothly. One gigantic hurdle in that equation is in ensuring that all of the cloud-based technology is properly in place and capable of accessing multiple government divisions such as Social Security, Medicaid, and the IRS, all at once. Since the passing of the PPACA, also known as Obamacare, in 2010 through the end of March 2013, the Government Accountability Office reported $394 million in contract expenses just to meet the huge technological needs of the state-run exchanges.
However, there's another side to the equation of getting America ready for open enrollment under Obamacare: the educational aspects.
Obamacare's top promoter
It's not enough for Obamacare to merely get the health exchanges ready for a large influx of new enrollee's if no one understands what Obamacare is, how each plan will benefit them, and how to physically get insurance. That's where the following big promoters come in for Obamacare.
As you might imagine, the states themselves will deliver a good chunk of information to the public; however, not all states should be counted on to do so. Although the money being used to educate the public about, and raise awareness for, Obamacare is federal money, not all state governors support the bill. To that end, while there will be health exchanges offered in all 50 states, only 16 states have chosen to operate their own health exchange. It's these 16 states that are likely to be its biggest promoters.
There will obviously be a heavy advertising blitz on television, in print, and online as we get much closer to the Oct. 1 deadline for the opening of the health exchanges (likely within 15 days or less of Oct. 1), but according to The Washington Post, some states have other creative ideas in mind to create awareness of the bill.
Some of the ideas have been genius, like Oregon's plan to use local musicians to explain the benefits of enrollment in television and radio ads. Oregon is also planning to place advertisements on branded coffee cups and in bus shelters in order to spread awareness.
Other ideas have bordered a bit on the "you've got to be kidding" side of the equation. My home state of Washington is actually considering the idea of plastering educational Obamacare information on the sides of portable toilets at concerts. Not to be outdone, Connecticut is spending some of its resources on banners to be flown over state beaches by plane. Like I said, some ideas are better than others, but they're all working toward the same goal of increasing awareness and education.
Additional promoters will also play a large role
In addition to the states themselves, our nation's youth and certain companies are expected to step up in a big way to help get people enrolled in their respective states' health exchange.
Understanding that parents are more likely to listen to their own children than pay attention to a panel on the side of a bus, California authorized spending nearly $1 million of its $37 million federal grant on educating children in the Los Angeles Unified School District about Obamacare. The hope is that these children will take what they've learned about Obamacare home with them and share that knowledge with their parents. It's actually an incredibly smart idea if you think about it, and it has the potential to spread to other school districts around the country.
One company that's put a lot on the line with regard to the implementation of Obamacare is WellPoint (NYSE:ANTM), which purchased AMERIGROUP last year to become the nation's largest insurer of people on Medicaid. Under the proposed expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, 16 million people will be newly eligible for some form of government health care subsidy, and WellPoint is looking for a big chunk of that pie.
First, WellPoint, the operator of Blue Cross Blue Shield health plans, announced a partnership with the largest Spanish-language network in the U.S., Univision, in late June to explain the benefits of Obamacare to Hispanics in California, New York, Colorado, and Georgia. The partnership will feature radio and TV ads, an online insurance center, news media broadcasts, and 70 town halls meetings devoted at raising awareness of the bill within the Hispanic community .
WellPoint wasn't done, though. Just last week it announced a strategic partnership with drugstore Walgreen (NASDAQ:WBA) who I'm certain would love to get a big helping of the numerous new prescriptions that are likely to be filled. As my Foolish colleague Keith Speights explains, Walgreen will be handing out brochures as its stores explaining how Obamacare works and where to get insurance, but the two will be collaborating on a website, LearnAboutReform.com, which will act as a one-stop information trough on Obamacare .
Keep in mind, though, that WellPoint isn't the only insurer that's angling for these Medicaid members. CIGNA (NYSE:CI) paid a hefty sum of $3.8 billion to buy Healthspring in 2011 and Aetna (NYSE:AET) is purchasing Coventry Health Care (NYSE:CVH) for $5.7 billion all with the intent of garnering the guaranteed money associated with Medicaid. Don't be surprised if these insurers form alliances as well to promote Obamacare in order to serve their own interests in gaining new members.
But not everyone's on board
As you might have already suspected, not everyone is on board with Obamacare. Regulators reached out for support from the National Football League in the hope that it, being the most watched sport in the country, would help promote Obamacare to the American public. However, after some thinking the NFL punted the idea back to regulators following concerns about the negative publicity it could bring the league. Don't forget, public opinion of the PPACA is near an all-time low, and the NFL is unlikely to jeopardize its position as America's most-watched sport by getting tied up in a highly politicized bill like Obamacare.
A big hurdle to clear
It's probably going to be a few more weeks before the dust settles and we've got a better idea of which companies aside from WellPoint and Walgreen will be pounding the table on Obamacare. What I can say with some degree of certainty is I'm personally concerned that the government and businesses reliant on health care insurance aren't leaving themselves enough time to properly inform the public on how to use the new exchanges. Obamacare will remain a hot-button topic moving forward, but if the educational aspects aren't there on Oct. 1, the bill could be in for a bumpy ride.