New Ads Drive Consumers To ‘problem Plagued’ Healthcare.gov – And Away From It

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Despite “technical enhancements,” there are still “problems plaguing HealthCare.gov,” The Hill reported November 30.

Before it could even start functioning (or malfunctioning, as the case may be) the Obamacare website was “suddenly taken down down for 11 hours — just before its long-awaited ­relaunch,” according to the New York Post.

On the front page of the November 30 New Tork Times, the lead story notes that

The website, which the administration promised would “function smoothly” for most people by Nov. 30, remains a work in progress. It is more stable, with many more people able to use it simultaneously than just two weeks ago. But it still suffers sporadic crashes, and large parts of the vital “back end” that processes enrollment data and transactions with insurers remain unbuilt.

And December 1, when CNN medical producer Matt Sloane, tried to demonstrate the new, improved and smoothly functioning website on air, he kept getting error messages.

In the wake of all this, two advertisers released new television commercials – the Obama administration  coaxing more consumers to visit the site (and experience these failures for themselves), and an insurance company offering a helpful way to avoid it.

Coaxing consumers to visit the site

The government’s effort targets healthy 20somethings, without whose subsidization of older, richer, sicker Americans the whole structure comes crashing down.

To that end, it started running during Thanksgiving weekend college football games.

The video shows closeups of knees performing various kinds of sports-type actions against a plain, white, no-seam background. The audio, after helpfully telling us that the closeup of a knee shows a knee, points out that your knee “steps, turns, leaps, lands, bends, cuts to the basket, bends every way you want it to…or not.” In which case you should get it covered by a health plan from the HealthCare.gov marketplace.

“It’s the only place,” an on-camera spokesman claims, “to get lower payments as part of the health care law.”

But if you’re lucky enough to live in Iowa, South Dakota or a number of other states, it isn’t.

Showing consumers a way to avoid it

That’s because Wellmark, the Iowa and South Dakota Blue Cross parent company and both states’ largest health insurer (78 percent of individual health insurance and 75 percent of group insurance in Iowa, 73 and 50 percent in South Dakota), chose not to participate in the Obamacare exchanges.

“Back in mid August,” writes Ed Haislmaier at National Review,

an attendee at a conference of Iowa health-insurance agents told me that Wellmark had opted to stay out of the exchanges because the company did not expect—based on the way things were then going—that the exchanges would be “a positive customer experience.” Translation: Apparently Wellmark did not want to risk tarnishing its brand by associating with what was shaping up to be a disaster.

In a series of 15-second commercials and 90-second online videos, Wellmark not only zaps the exchange website, but offers consumers an alternative.

The commercials show funny medical vignettes – a man whose knee doesn’t jerk when hit with a hammer, another man trying to give a urine sample but can’t because he can’t open the child-proof cap on the bottle, another who doesn’t seem to have a pulse during a blood-pressure check – while the voice-over, the Wellmark URL and the end title all take gentle but clear digs at the Obamacare website and offer calling the insurer direct as an alternative.

“Things don’t always work the way they’re supposed to,” says a female voice-over. “Good thing the government exchange website isn’t the only place to buy health insurance. Just visit Wellmark.com/simple or call today.” Then up comes an end title with both that URL, a toll-free number and the tag line, Promises Matter. (Hmm. Wonder whose promises they’re referring to.)

And as far as the claim that the official Obamacare exchange is “the only place to get lower payments as part of the health care law” is concerned, EVP David Brown handily refutes that in one of the :90s. If you earn more than four times the poverty level (about $45,000 for an individual, $95,000 for a family of four), he points out, you won’t get a federal subsidy, even with the exchange. Moreover, he adds, “Wellmark has very good products that might be better priced or a better fit for your needs…Even for somebody who is subsidy-eligible…in some cases the off-exchange products might be priced lower.” And you won’t have to give out all kinds of personal information to get those possibly lower prices, either.

By the way, Wellmark  isn’t the only major health insurer who passed on the Obamacare exchanges this year; so did Aetna, United and Cigna in most states.

But Wellmark’s the only one using advertising to turn that (with a little assist from HeaolthCare.gov) into an advertised product benefit.

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