Minnesotans will soon hear a lot more about MNsure

Minnesotans will soon hear a lot more about MNsure, state's new health insurance marketplace

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Most Minnesotans haven't heard a lot so far from the people setting up Minnesota's health care marketplace, but they will soon.

MNsure has gotten nearly $9 million from the federal government for its marketing and advertising efforts to help sign up the nearly 500,000 residents who don't have health insurance but must get it under the federal Affordable Care Act. That's part of nearly $24 million in federal dollars that MNsure plans to spend on a wide range of outreach efforts.

MNsure expects to serve more than 1.2 million Minnesotans, about 20 percent of the state's population. About 9 percent of the state's population lacks health insurance, and they'll be among the main targets.

The most visible part of MNsure's outreach so far has been its website, which has information about how the program will work. It's also where people can sign up when open enrollment begins Oct. 1. MNsure has also started a Twitter feed and a Facebook page. It has held some town hall meetings, and plans to have a presence at the Minnesota State Fair.

"MNsure is THE place to choose health insurance" will be the thrust of the message people get, Mary Sienko, MNsure's marketing and communications director, said during a presentation this month for potential outreach partners.

The $9 million in federal money for marketing and advertising includes at least $1.5 million for ad buys, but MNsure officials expect the final amount will be higher. They're still in negotiations with media outlets and don't have a final figure yet.

The advertising will start quietly with the distribution of literature toward the end of July and early August to community organizations that will help encourage people to enroll, said MNsure executive director April Todd-Malmlov.

"More of the mass media marketing will start toward the mid to later part of August and that will include TV, radio, billboards, digital, newspapers — everything you can think of," Todd-Malmlov said.

The decision to wait until then is deliberate. Todd-Malmlov said MNsure wanted to be sure that when people see the advertising, there's something they can do about it, such as visiting the website or dialing the MNsure call center, which opens Sept. 3.

"If you go out too soon, then you're raising awareness for something people can't do anything about yet," she said.

The $666,590 contract to develop MNsure's public awareness campaign went to the advertising agency BBDO Proximity of Minneapolis.

But advertising won't be the full extent of MNsure's outreach efforts. The exchange has allocated $13 million for "consumer assister" programs. Grants will go to a wide range of community and other organizations that want to help the uninsured learn about their coverage options. The state also has nearly $1.7 million in federal grants that will go to health centers serving the poor that will use the money for patient outreach.

Many details remain to be worked out, but that brings MNsure's projected outreach spending to nearly $24 million in federal money, which works out to $4.47 per resident in a state with over 5.3 million people.

According to research by The Associated Press, states such as Minnesota that have embraced the Affordable Care Act have received far more federal money on a per capita basis than states that have left the job to the federal government.

Minnesota's $4.47 compares with just 46 cents per capita in Wisconsin, $1.38 in North Dakota and $1.45 in South Dakota. Iowa, which plans a partnership exchange with the federal government, gets 68 cents per capita.

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