WASHINGTON -- With less than one month to go before the Affordable Care Act's open enrollment deadline, groups that support the law are ramping up efforts to reach the uninsured and ambivalent.
These groups are set to hold more than 4,000 events in the next 27 days, according to data that organizers provided to The Huffington Post. The events range from bus tours to free-coverage sweepstakes to mass sign-up gatherings.
The goal is the same as it ever was: to ensure that as many people as possible sign up for coverage before the end of March. But with a few months of experience now under their belts, many of these groups have refined their pitches.
Using data compiled by the government, organizers have narrowed the universe of consumers they are trying to reach, focusing specifically on states and communities that have proven to be unfamiliar with the law, or hesitant to embrace it. Some groups are putting resources behind peer-to-peer approaches to selling Obamacare, finding them more persuasive than television advertisements or generic literature. Above all else, they are emphasizing the financial assistance that may be available to consumers –- a portion of the law officials say is drastically under-appreciated.
“Halfway through the enrollment period, there remained a really big information gap for consumers, and more so for communities of color and people of low income,” said Anne Filipic, president of the non-profit group Enroll America, which has 250 staffers on the ground in 11 target states.
“People don’t know that financial assistance is available," Filipic said. "That leapt off the page to us. It’s an enormous gap that existed and it became the number one thing we had to talk about.”
For proponents of Obamacare, the math remains somewhat daunting. The Congressional Budget Office had estimated that 7 million people would choose a plan through the newly created exchanges within the first year. But a rocky launch for the law's website ensured that supporters would be playing catch-up during the entire enrollment period, and with one week to go in February, the administration said that 4 million people had signed up. It didn't distinguish between those who had paid their first month's premium and those who hadn't, though estimates say 20 percent fall into the latter group.
The bigger concern, however, is that uninsured people's perceptions of the law are worsening. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll last month showed that 56 percent of people who said they lacked insurance had an unfavorable view of the law, compared to 22 percent who supported it.
Tasked with convincing skeptical Americans that Obamacare will actually help them, the White House and its allies have chosen to flood the zone.
On March 8 and 9, for instance, Enroll America will host a weekend of action in 11 states. On March 11, Organizing for Action -- the successor to the president's campaign organization -- will hold a National Day of Action to promote the financial assistance available under the law.
Or take March 12. On that day, Enroll America will host enrollment events at Allegheny Community College in Pennsylvania and send its “Countdown to #GetCovered” bus tour through Texas. The group Moms Rising will host online chat sessions, while PICO National Network, a coalition of community organizers, will host an enrollment event in Oakland, Calif. Planned Parenthood Federation of America will hold enrollment events, phone banks and training sessions across Florida, as well as in Philadelphia and Fort Worth, Texas. The Service Employees International Union will host an event in Los Angeles and an enrollment fair at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, while the group Young Invincibles will hold a fair at Lindsey Hopkins Technical School in Miami.
The locations of these events aren't random. Enrollment in Texas and Ohio has lagged behind, Filipic notes, and there is a large concentration of uninsured people in Los Angeles.
But sending manpower to these areas only gets you so far. Groups supportive of the law recognize they have to also facilitate conversations with the uninsured about the law’s benefits. And with precious few days left, they are focusing on the most productive methods.
“Anecdotally, there is nothing as powerful as a face-to-face conversation. People have so many questions. This is so much about trust and understanding how coverage works,” said Aaron Smith, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Young Invincibles. In that respect, he said, “social media is pretty key because of the share-ability factor. People can share a video or a poster, a meme or retweet and they see it is coming from people that they know.”
Along those lines, Young Invincibles is launching a sweepstakes contest that will give a randomly chosen consumer who downloads its mobile app free health insurance for a year.
“The big message in this last month is around financial assistance,” Smith said. “That’s one of the reasons we are launching this sweepstakes.”
Efforts like these aren’t occurring in a vacuum. Opponents of the law have financed a robust television advertising campaign criticizing its implementation and warning against the effect it will have on the health care system. While these ads are primarily wrapped around contested Senate races, supporters worry that they will depress the number of enrollments.
But the airwaves will see a surge of pro-Obamacare advertising in March as well. According to Kantar Media, a group that tracks ad spending, the number of commercials encouraging people to sign up for coverage has been on the upswing. In mid-February, those ads constituted 32 percent of all insurer ad spending. By the end of the month, it had jumped to 46 percent.
“It’s not so much that there’s a surge in spending by insurers. Their spending has stayed pretty consistent since HealthCare.gov was fixed,” said Elizabeth Wilner, Senior Vice President of Kantar Media. “It’s that more that their spending is going to ads that explicitly urge people to enroll.”