LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- A $24 million marketing and outreach blitz underway in Arkansas will train hundreds of workers about how to sign up residents for the state's insurance marketplace under the federal health care law and pay for ads at hundreds of gas pumps.
State insurance officials are trying to reach the roughly 500,000 people who are expected to sign up for insurance through the exchange, an online marketplace where the uninsured can purchase coverage, by the time open enrollment begins Oct. 1.
"It's a pretty robust effort," Cynthia Crone, who leads the Insurance Department's Health Benefits Exchange Partnership division. "When we've got 500,000 of our less than 3 million people who are uninsured, we need to reach a lot of people."
The biggest part of that effort will be the guides who will help the uninsured connect with the exchange. Arkansas has received more than $16.2 million from the federal government to contract with various organizations around the state that will employ the guides.
In addition to the guides, Arkansas officials are using federal funds to blanket the state with advertisements about the new exchange. Arkansas awarded a nearly $4.3 million contract for marketing the insurance exchange to Mangan Holcomb Partners earlier this year.
The contract calls for purchasing $2.6 million in advertising to promote the new exchange. Beyond television, radio and print, the contract also calls for placing gas pump advertising at 100 stations around Arkansas and placing 150 billboards promoting the exchange. The company also detailed plans to purchase advertising on Pandora online radio and to use social media.
"The message the Arkansas Health Connector must deliver to the people of Arkansas is simple: affordable health insurance is now available — and they need to sign up for it," MHP said in a campaign plan released by the Insurance Department.
Crone said the department has seen heavy traffic on Arkansas Health Connector website set up for the exchange, which includes a countdown to when open enrollment begins.
Arkansas' insurance marketplace is being operated as a partnership with the federal government. Under the partnership models, the federal government will be responsible for several areas, including eligibility determinations, enrollment of individuals and operating the call center. The state will determine criteria for certifying health insurance plans, monitoring plans for continued participating, providing direct consumer outreach and education and providing consumer complaint resolution.
About half of the people who will buy insurance through the exchange are doing so under a plan lawmakers approved earlier this year to purchase private insurance for low-income residents using federal Medicaid funds. The "private option" was approved as an alternative to expanding Medicaid's enrollment under the health care law. That plan must be approved by the federal government, and Arkansas is expected to submit its request next month.