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CMS reviews ACA outreach priorities, strategies for next open enrollment



Making sure people understand their recently acquired coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and re-enroll, as well as reaching the population of uninsured who still stand to benefit, are the CMS' two outreach priorities for the next open enrollment period, said Julie Bataille, director of the agency's office of communications.

The agenda was outlined at a recent Advisory Panel on Outreach and Education meeting held at the agency's D.C. offices. The committee, made up of advocates, state officials, insurance company representatives and members of academia, advises the agency on outreach strategies that should be used for its various initiatives, including the ACA. The next open enrollment period begins Nov.15.

“It is important not to lose the momentum from this year,” Bataille said. “The efforts to educate consumers about the benefits of new coverage and work with partners must continue, including explaining the coverage and the language and terminology of healthcare coverage.”Of all the consumer outreach strategies attempted in the first sign-up period, testimonials using real people and their stories of enrollment seemed the most effective because peers could relate to those messages, she said. Also, engaging partners turned out to be critical to the successful marketplace launch, she added.

One important connection was the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which worked through many of its county extension programs to provide education and enrollment help to individuals. The American Job Center, which has thousands of job counseling locations around the country, is another group that was important for open enrollment and continues post-open enrollment work.

While overall pleased with the outreach efforts, Bataille mentioned there was room for improvement. For instance, key messages could be reinforced using community partners, local events, and paid media. Another lesson was the importance of a feedback loop to share information about what is happening in the field, including what's working, what's not working, and what problems people are having.

“The task of CMS is to provide resources for partners to leverage in the field, and the agency knows it can improve this effort,” Bataille said.

The agency also plans to focus on targeting outreach at individuals experiencing job change.

Following Bataille's presentation, the committee made several recommendations, including using a proactive educational approach to assist individuals in learning about pathways to care, what type of health professionals they should consult for problems they have, and how to navigate the health care system.

The agency should also coordinate media strategies to inform assister and champion communities about when ads will be running, so that they can complement and target the CMS media efforts and investigate barriers like why Hispanic groups did not sign up in as great numbers as expected.

Follow Virgil Dickson on Twitter: @MHvdickson

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