HCSC's 'social marketing marathon' educates consumers about exchanges


Health Care Services Corporation (HCSC) is taking matters into its own hands. Deciding not to rely on federal or state governments to inform and educate the public about the health insurance exchanges, it launched its own advertising campaign particularly aimed at the uninsured population in the four states where it operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans--Illinois, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

At the core of the "Be Covered" campaign, which began in March, is almost 200 partner organizations enabling HCSC to have its finger on the pulse of the uninsured community.

To learn more about how HCSC is successfully reaching out to the uninsured public, educating them about the reform law and online marketplaces, FierceHealthPayer spoke with David Sandor (pictured right), HCSC's vice president of public affairs and corporate communications.

FierceHealthPayer: What drove HCSC to take its own action to educate the public and create the "Be Covered" campaign?

David Sandor: The reason we did it was pretty simple. We conducted a significant amount of research that showed there are around 9 million uninsured people in the four states where we operate. And our research shows that the vast majority of the uninsured in our markets are confused about the new law, had very little experience with our industry and need help understanding the basics of connecting with the healthcare system in general. So this was a pretty big revelation for us.

Before we engaged in any product marketing, we decided that basic education was needed to address some of these knowledge and experience gaps that our research uncovered. In order to gain traction with so many people in such diverse communities, we had to start early and establish relationships with credible community organizations that were in a better position than we are to actually reach and motivate people. We couldn't communicate unilaterally. We had to create an infrastructure of community organizations that had existing and ongoing relationships with the uninsured and empower them to help us communicate some very basic information about what was happening and what they needed to be aware of prior to Oct. 1.

There's an opportunity to say something's new here, something changed that's significant and here's why you should care and here's what you need to do in order to benefit from these products. That's simply stated, but it's a very complex communication process, particularly when you're dealing with folks who have no preconceived notion of what regular healthcare or insurance is. Many see insurance as out of their reach, so they don't have a natural disposition to want this product.

So we thought we would create a campaign that we call "Be Covered." Each [one of HCSC plans' Be Covered campaigns] has its own website and own approach to identifying those community organizations that are in the best position not only to communicate but to have these ongoing conversations with uninsured people. We look at organizations like churches, food pantries, social service organizations and civic or ethnic heritage-based organizations. In each state, it's a little bit different. In Texas, we now have 112 community partners, ranging from the NAACP to the Asian American Health Coalition to St. Luke's Methodist Church. It's a real cross-section of organizations.

FHP: How does HCSC partner with community organizations?

Sandor: We approach them, present them with things we think would be helpful from a content standpoint. And we offer to work with them at events and in any other way that they feel is helpful to carry these messages forward. We use a lot of web content, text messaging and a bilingual newspaper supplement with the largest Spanish language newspaper chain. There hasn't been one organization that we've approached in any community in any state that hasn't been receptive to our offer to help empower them with this communication.

We have organizations that have come to us and simply prepared an email link for thousands of their members. Food pantries put our brochures in every box and bag of food that they distribute. Churches have invited us to share information. We go to soccer games and festivals and set up shop, give information, collect names to get people enrolled in our email and text campaigns. We want it to be an ongoing dialogue because even once people have signed up and selected a process, we feel this education needs to continue.