California's state government is spending $110 million on advertising and outreach for Obamacare's open enrollment, state officials announced Monday.
The amount is more than the $100 million that the federal government spent on advertising Obamacare across the country during last year's open enrollment. It also is $11 million more than the state spent last year and includes funding for navigators, advertising and in-person meetings that customers have with agents who help them sign up for coverage.
California officials said the state is increasing the amount spent on awareness for the exchange, called Covered California, because they believe that former Obamacare customers might be confused after the Republican-led Congress tried to repeal portions of the law earlier this year.
“The distant thunder in Washington is causing concern among Californians,” said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. “We want to make sure they know Covered California is stable, offering the same quality coverage in 2018 that we have offered since we opened our doors in 2014.”
About 1.3 million people are enrolled for health insurance coverage through the state exchange, and research commissioned by Covered California shows that 96 percent of people surveyed are familiar with Covered California and with Obamacare.
The Trump administration has cut the advertising budget for the federal exchange, healthcare.gov, to $10 million this year, is spending $36 million on navigators and has shortened the amount of time people have to sign up for coverage in half, to six weeks, from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.
In comparison, California's open enrollment period will run twice as long, from Oct. 15 to Jan. 31.
The $110 million paid for ads that are shot through a first-person perspective from actors wearing helmet cameras, in which they fall or get into an accident, or discover an unplanned pregnancy. The ads will run in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese.
“We all know someone who was suddenly injured or who received an unexpected diagnosis," Lee said. "Our new ads show incidents Californians can relate to — cutting your hand in the kitchen, slipping on stairs or falling off a ladder — to drive home the value of health insurance."
Covered California also will run radio and print ads, as well as ads on billboards, buses and convenience store posters. On Wednesday, the day open enrollment begins, Covered California will begin a bus tour at several stops across the state in which they will paint murals and bring attention to places where Californians can sign up for coverage.
A decision President Trump made to end payments known as cost-sharing reduction payments will raise costs for people who don't receive subsidies from the federal government, but according to a Covered California analysis, 1.1 million Californians who do receive subsidies will pay a lower average cost of 1.5 percent, or $109 a year.
California also created a workaround to soften the blow for customers who don't receive subsidies: It added a surcharge to mid-level silver plans on its exchange instead of spreading the increase across other types of plans, such as gold or bronze, or to plans off the exchange. That allows the state to bill the federal government for the increases rather than charge more to all those in the pool.
As a result, state officials are encouraging unsubsidized Obamacare customers to change to a lower-tiered plan or to buy coverage outside of Covered California, such as directly through an insurer or through a broker.
California's market is similar to the coverage customers were getting in 2017, officials say. One insurer, however, Anthem Blue Cross Blue shield, withdrew from 16 of California's 19 regions, meaning that the 153,000 people who receive coverage from Anthem will need to switch plans.