Marketing push highlights low-price exchange insurance - The Buffalo News
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Marketing push highlights low-price exchange insurance

The health plans that in July proposed the lowest premiums for coverage sold through New York’s new insurance exchange are among those on a final list released Tuesday by state officials.

The inclusion of the lowest-priced options is good news for the roughly 64,000 uninsured who live in Erie and Niagara counties alone, as well as for the underinsured.

The state’s announcement was the beginning of a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign meant to promote the New York exchange, now renamed “NY State of Health,” and to educate the public on how to shop on the exchange once it opens for business.

“It gives individual consumers in New York a better look at what will be available to them when we open on Oct. 1,” Donna Frescatore, the exchange’s executive director, said in an interview.

Seven health plans will sell insurance in this region to individuals or small-business employees on the state exchange – a key piece of the Affordable Care Act – at rates that are far lower than those now available to the few people who buy coverage directly from an insurer.

The state on Tuesday touted the exchange’s new name and logo and unveiled a website with more information on which plans are offered across the state and how much exchange customers will pay for their insurance.

“The ‘NY State of Health’ name reflects our commitment to deliver what the exchange is all about – a marketplace that will provide quality, affordable health insurance for individuals and small businesses across the state,” Dr. Nirav R. Shah, the state health commissioner, said in a statement.

There are 2.7 million uninsured New Yorkers, according to the state Health Department, and the Urban Institute estimates that 64,000 of them live in Erie and Niagara counties.

But just 17,000 people in the state directly buy coverage from an insurer, largely because of the high cost of those plans.

The public insurance exchanges in New York and other states are expected to provide affordable, comprehensive coverage to the public, thanks in part to federal subsidies that will further lower the cost of these plans.

The state expects that 615,000 individuals, and 450,000 small-business employees, will buy coverage through the New York exchange over the next three years. People can start shopping on the exchange Oct. 1 and its coverage kicks in Jan. 1.

“We think these are the best choices and the best value for New Yorkers throughout the state,” Frescatore said.

The state Department of Financial Services in July revealed the approved rates for coverage offered on the New York exchange, with a wide range between the lowest-price and highest-price options.

In this region, for example, the monthly premium price ranges from $221 to $834, depending on the level of coverage and the insurer offering the coverage. Those prices do not include the subsidies available, on a sliding scale, to low- and moderate-income exchange shoppers.

The state on Tuesday set up an online calculator meant to help people determine their premium price and their expected tax credit, to highlight the actual, lower price they’ll pay for coverage.

And the state confirmed the list of health plans that will sell insurance through the exchange. The roster varies from county to county, and some plans are selling only individual coverage while others only are selling insurance to small-business employees.

Overall, six plans are selling individual coverage on the state exchange in one or more of the eight counties of Western New York, the state confirmed Tuesday: American Progressive Life and Health Insurance Co.; Excellus Health Plans, which does business locally as Univera Healthcare; Fidelis Care, the New York State Catholic health plan; Freelancers Co-op, operating as Health Republic Insurance, which boasts the lowest average rates; HealthNow New York, which operates locally as BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York; and Independent Health.

A seventh plan, MVP Health Plan, is selling insurance on the exchange here to small-business employees but not to individuals.

Of the three dominant local health plans – BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, Independent Health and Univera – only BlueCross BlueShield is declining to sell coverage to small-business employees through the exchange.

“Given what is in place, we want to focus this first year on individuals as we already are serving small groups and don’t anticipate many employers buying exchange-based insurance this first year,” Mike Conroy, HealthNow’s vice president for commercial group accounts in the region, said in a statement.

EmblemHealth was approved in July to sell coverage off the state exchange in this market, through two subsidiaries, at rates that on average were higher than those offered by the seven other plans.

EmblemHealth’s GHI will sell insurance here off the exchange – meaning people who buy this coverage won’t be eligible for the exchange subsidies – but its HIP Insurance Co. no longer will sell off-exchange coverage in this market, where it was the highest-priced option.

GHI and HIP are selling coverage on the exchange in the downstate market.

“At this time, this network and product strategy is limited to this area. We will consider other geographies, including Western New York, in the future,” J. David Mahder, EmblemHealth’s vice president for marketing and communications, said in an email.

Tuesday’s announcement by the state kicks off an online marketing campaign that will move to TV, radio and print media outlets starting Oct. 1.

It starts with the new brand for the exchange. In addition to the name, the state also unveiled the “NY State of Health” logo, which boasts the shape of New York superimposed on a circle.

The federal government is providing the states with tens of millions of dollars to market the exchanges, and the state Health Department awarded the DDB advertising firm, and public-relations subcontractor Ketchum, a $40.1 million contract to promote the New York exchange.

“We’re trying to reach every corner, every sector, throughout the state,” said Bill Schwarz, a department spokesman.


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