October 1st, 2013 marks the official kick-off of the open enrollment window for eligible Americans to enroll for health insurance through state exchanges for a January 1, 2014, effective date. The hope of course is that 40 million uninsureds sign up or they will face a penalty of the greater of $95 or 1% of adjusted gross income. The odds makers are projecting somewhere between 7-8 million enrollees will hit the buy button for 2014. While federal navigators and the administration will be touting how to enroll ALL Americans, the insurance carriers who have selectively chosen their markets will take a different tactic. If history repeats itself, the last mass public-private health enrollment push dates back to the Bush-era when Medicare Advantage plans first became available to the over 65 crowd. A regulatory official once shared with me they had to take enforcement actions against an insurance company promoting their Medicare Advantage plans after learning the carrier held their informational meetings on the top floor of a strip mall with stair-only access. Ask yourself if you would rather insure a senior citizen that can walk up a flight of stairs or one that rolls onto an elevator in the latest personal electric transport chair endorsed by Burl Ives? This post is not meant to judge our for-profit businesses for pursuing legal tactics that enhance profitability for their shareholders. Profit or perish is the maxim for any business. The far greater concern is what happens when public and private insurance pools go after the best customers. History shows us that private enterprise usually wins out when it comes to marketing consumer goods and services.
The big five health carriers are poised to spend $1 billion or more to attract millions of new customers who never have payed health premiums before. Despite the appeal of a glossed-up "Kathleen Sebelius flyer" produced by the Secretary of Health and Human Services office for "Navigator" distribution, finding "Superman" will not be a fair gunfight for the public Exchanges. Let's face it ... the Madison Avenue-style advertising budgets funded by the largest insurance carriers will be playing in a different league. If you haven't noticed ... the largest health carriers are now sponsoring more marathons, cycling teams, triathlons, mob and ultra events than ever before. It's health marketing 101, the audience there is worth the brand impression.
Don't expect to see a carrier-sponsored exchange ad next time you're picking up your blood pressure meds at the local CVS. Instead, check inside a Men's Health or Seventeen magazine to find out how to enroll ... or better yet ... run a local 10k and post your results on your Facebook timeline. The chances are in this new digital economy, there is already enough "big data" that is aggregated on you to predict your health risk. You will know your health status by how aggressively you are sought after.