States use tax dollars to 'market' unpopular health insurance

State governments are using everything from athletic team endorsements to DMV mailings to town meetings and political ground operations – all financed with tax dollars – to conducj-edgar-hoover-aiming-a-thompson-submachine-gun_i-G-27-2778-83NTD00Zt what the Wall Street Journal calls “their biggest marketing campaign yet: persuading millions of uninsured, hard-to-reach and skeptical Americans to sign up for [Obamacare] health plans this fall.”

They’re going to have their work cut out for them.

Sales resistance

About half of the states have refused to set up health insurance exchanges and to accept federal (i.e., tax) dollars for expanding Medicaid.

As of late November, 2011, the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, which was aiming to enroll some 49.5 million uninsured Americans with pre-existing condidtions, had succeeded in signing up a grand total of fewer than 34,000.

As of February 11, Rasmussen Reports showed that more Americans continue to dislike Obamacare (49 percent) than to like it (46 percent). And half again as many viewed it Very Unfavorably (35 percent) as Very Favorably (21 percent).

Price resistance

Another source of consumer resistance is the January 31 federal government announcement that health insurance under the Affordable Care Act will be less, not more, affordable.

According to Internal Revenue Service final rules issued January 31, “under Obamacare the cheapest health insurance plan available in 2016 for a family will cost $20,000 for the year.”

Specifically, the IRS says, “The annual national average bronze plan premium for a family of 5 (2 adults, 3 children) is $20,000.”

Now, the bronze plan is far from the so-called Cadillac plans that the administration demonized. It isn’t even a Buick plan or a Chevrolet plan. As the most stripped-down of four plan levels Obamacare will offer come 2016, it’s more like a Yugo plan. And it’s $20,000 a year for a family of four or five.

Following the Massachusetts model

Of those states that back the program, many are looking to imitate what Massachusetts did to roll out its government health plan in 2006 – namely, flyers (printed and mailed with tax money) and advertisements (paid for by tax money) from the state’s transportation, motor vehicle and tax agencies.

Vermont is using endorsements from the University of Vermont and Norwich University hockey teams to shill for the program. Sean Sheehan, director of education and outreach for the state’s exchange, said they plan to flood March town meetings across the state with speakers.

Neighboring Connecticut is avoiding sports tie-ins so far because most residents root for either New York or Boston baseball and football teams.

The state of Washington is considering a tie-in with Major League Soccer team the Seattle Sounders – not because pro soccer’s such a big-time sport, but because its season’s timing matches Obamacare’s October sign-up start (also because games are popular with Hispanics and broadcast bilingually).

Enroll America, the offshoot of a special-interest group which campaigned for Obamacare’s passage, plans to send volunteers door to door, particularly in states like Florida and Texas, whose state governments oppose the healthcare law.

The audience’s fault?

“[A]ccording to backers of the law, enrollment faces big obstacles as polls and focus groups suggest a majority of uninsured people aren’t aware of the new coverage options or the availability of subsidies toward the cost of health insurance premiums,” the Wall Street Journal notes.

But the main reason that “[t]his is a very skeptical audience,” as Enroll America’s Rachel Klein put it, is that they understand the program – and its costs – all too well.

“I think the message of those who are marketing it aggressively is, ‘It’s not the problem with the product, it’s the brand,'” says Tom Miller of the American Enterprise Institute, but “I would suggest that they’re underestimating some other problems with the underlying product.”

When the audience doesn’t like a product, it’s an all too common fallacy to assume that’s because they’re too dumb to understand it.

“[I]t’s obviously the audience’s fault,” we wrote here in a different context in 2011, “and their misperception needs to be corrected with education. In other words, if the product’s no good, infantilize your audience by talking (down) to them as if they were ignorant children. This kind of “marketing message” is the sure sign of a failing brand – one that can’t make it in the marketplace on the merits of its own features and benefits.”

This fallacy was the downfall of many green products and the ecological-product category as a whole. It’s a fallacy that many marketers of failing products waste money pursuing. And it’s a big shame that’s also a fallacy that states are starting to waste fistfuls of taxpayers’ money on.

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