Health insurers ramp up efforts to reach individual, minority markets

Medical and health insurance claim form with stethoscope on clipboard

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and AmeriHealth New Jersey are stepping up their efforts to market Affordable Care Act marketplace plans in the wake of the federal government’s 90 percent funding reduction just months before open enrollment, ROI-NJ has learned.

In August, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it was reducing the marketing spend to just $10 million, saying the program was inefficient and had run its course.

Since then, a number of insurers around the country have announced marketing plans earlier than the usual two to three weeks prior to open enrollment, to supplement the loss of federal support.

Horizon and AmeriHealth are joining the ranks.

Horizon is especially focused on the state’s Hispanic communities through Horizon Health Ambassadors.

HHA efforts target a diverse group of individuals, including Hispanic and Blue To You mobile van teams,  Hola Doctor representatives, as well as support staff at the new Sanitas Medical Centers, according to Horizon.

Michael Considine, vice president of Horizon’s Consumer and Small Group Markets, said the company is leveraging relationships that it has nurtured in the past several years to effectively reach the Hispanic market.

In past years, Horizon has ramped up its retail presence through mall kiosks around the state, as well as two retail locations in Jersey City and Perth Amboy.

“When ACA became law, we made a decision that it was imperative, for us to succeed long term, we had to take a very active role in the communities of New Jersey to make sure that our citizens can make informed decisions and provide very local community-based events where we could communicate,” Considine said. “We have a heavy focus on the Hispanic marketplace, which we believe will be a segment of constituents in New Jersey that are going to feel the lack of navigators and marketing presence on the exchange the most. The Hispanic population makes up about 35 to 40 percent of the uninsured population.”

The company is also working with the Save Latin America and Puerto Rican Association for Human Development groups, and focused on its presence at a Horizon customer service location in Moorestown.

Horizon believes these efforts have helped it gain its market dominance in the past few years.

“While we always look to see and understand what our competitors are doing, we haven’t seen a robust marketing presence in a physical way in the last several years during open enrollment, and especially after open enrollment is over, no one has made a commitment to the degree that we have. We think that speaks to our success as we have 73 percent market share in the individual market in New Jersey,” Considine said.

AmeriHealth is also focusing on its individual market in light of the federal marketing cut.

“Open enrollment consumers have only six weeks this year to enroll in a health plan that is right for them. At AmeriHealth New Jersey, we have several initiatives planned to educate consumers on the new enrollment deadline and to help ease the process, especially in light of the pullback in government education and marketing,” said spokesman Jill Roman. “For instance, we’ll make outbound calls to all of our consumer members explaining the renewal process-what plans are available in their county as well as offer to help answer any questions. “

That includes a texting services where customers can simply text to renew their coverage.

“We will also continue our grassroots outreach and education campaign by way of our red, white and blue AmeriHealth New Jersey-branded Mini Coopers, which can been seen at various events in the local communities we serve throughout the state,” Roman said. “Lastly, all 2018 renewals will be sent in English and Spanish, and will provide a dedicated Spanish number in an effort to better assist our Spanish-speaking customers.”

Both insurers are the only ones in New Jersey participating in the individual marketplace.

UnitedHealthcare, though it is not in the ACA exchange, has also been ramping up outreach to a minority community.

It recently opened its second physical location aimed at Asian-Americans in New Jersey.

The first was opened in Edison, and a new location in Bergen opened Friday.

“Bergen is among the top counties in New Jersey with the largest number of Asian-Americans facing limited English proficiency,” UHC said in a statement. “The benefit store will focus on serving the Asian-American community by providing health education and customer service for both Medicare and employee-sponsored coverage from UHC representatives who speak Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin and South Asian dialects.”

Chris Law, national vice president of Asian Initiatives at UHC, said the new location was a result of seeing a significant number of Asian American Bergen residents make the drive down to Edison.

“We target for service primarily first-generation Asian-American immigrants,” Law said. “A lot of them have linguistic and cultural barriers that prevent them from accessing quality health care.”

So, why open physical locations when many health care professionals are doing more online?

“In the Asian culture, it is highly-valued face-to-face interactions, especially when you have all these barriers that exist,” Law said. “With the aging population, we see more and more people being eligible for benefits. We are catering to the growing aging population.”

Law explained that many immigrants arrived in the country when they were younger, and now that they are aging and eligible for Medicare — a space where UHC dominates — it makes sense to provide services where the residents are.

The locations go beyond just providing health care services, and serve as community centers with education and awareness classes of all types of government benefits and translation services of documents, Law said.

“The health care system in this country is so complex, our mission really is to help people live healthier lives by empowering them and helping them navigate this complex health care system,” he said.