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Posted on 07.12.2013

ACA Implementation Requires Unprecedented Stakeholder Outreach, Brings Unique PR Challenges

Americans will have the opportunity to purchase health insurance from state or federal exchanges beginning October 1, 2013. Do you understand health insurance exchanges? If you don't, you aren't alone. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released in late April found that 42 percent of Americans were even unaware the ACA is now law and being implemented.

Envisioning the level of stakeholder communications required to adequately inform Americans about their options and responsibilities under the new law is a mind-boggling prospect. But those efforts and related P.R. battles are now underway. Here are a few of what I find to be some of the more interesting highlights from a communications perspective.

USA.gov launched the portal HealthCare.gov and its Health Insurance Marketplace (and the Health Insurance Marketplace in Espanol, CuidadoDeSalud.gov). 

A tool on HealthCare.gov's portal leads you through a series of questions to determine if you might qualify for health insurance at lower costs. After a series of eight easy-to-answer questions, I was informed, "You may be eligible to get quality health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace. But based on the information you provided, you probably won't qualify to save money on your monthly premiums or out-of-pocket costs." I had assumed that to be the case, but good to know!

The online Health Insurance Marketplace directs visitors to the proper marketplace for their state. Under the selection box "See what your state is doing," if you select Tennessee, which did not opt to run its own exchange, you'll learn, "If you live in Tennessee, you'll use this website, HealthCare.gov, to apply for coverage, compare plans, and enroll." But if you select California, which will operate its own exchange, you're informed, "If you live in California, Covered California is the Health Insurance Marketplace to serve you."

Healthcare.gov and the Health Insurance Marketplace have also launched a 24/7 toll-free help line at 1-800-318-2596 (TTY: 1-855-889-4325) and has 24/7 live chat.

One of the more important recent developments for employers is that the ACA mandatory employer and insurer reporting provisions will be delayed one year.

Interestingly, as NPR noted, this announcement came in the form of a blog post on the Treasury Departmen's website! The post notes this delay will allow time to simplify the new reporting requirements and provide more time for employers to adapt.

The ACA requires employers with 50 or more workers to offer health coverage or risk fines. This Kaiser Family Foundation infographic is a "simple" flowchart to illustrate how employer responsibilities and penalties will work. With the recently announced delay, these employers are urged to voluntarily implement the requirements in 2014 in preparation for full implementation of the provisions - and enforcement of the penalties - in 2015.

The administration's announcement provided great P.R. fodder for ACA critics, who decried this as a significant setback for President Obama. Business groups, more restrained in their reaction, welcomed the decision as pragmatic.

The grassroots not-for-profit organization Enroll America is working to maximize the number of uninsured Americans who enroll in health coverage made available by the Affordable Care Act.

Enroll America has two strategies to reach individuals who aren't online, working through community health centers and organizations that represent physicians to reach people already engaged with the healthcare system and utilizing community events and organizations like churches to reach those who are not.

For the under-30 crowd, social media, celebrity endorsements, and efforts to reach moms - significant influencers particularly of young males - will be key. And there may be good news in regard to this age group. Last month's Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that more than seven in 10 younger adults rate having health insurance as â€Â¶very important." Only a quarter of those ages 18-30 feel they are healthy enough to go without it.

Enroll America and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius became entwined in their own P.R. struggles when the Secretary was criticized for urging donations to the not-for-profit after Congress refused to give the Department money to implement the new law.

Want to learn more about all this? Some excellent recommended listening or reading comes from Julie Rovner of NPR, who has begun to bravely tackle Morning Edition listener questions about the ACA. What questions would you pose to Julie about the ACA? Let us know, or email Julie at MORNING EDITION@npr.org!


​Dana Coleman is a Vice President at Lovell Communications. You can view more of Dana’s blogs here. Connect with Dana at Dana@lovell.com or @lovelldc

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