In wake of Trump navigator cuts, Oscar Health gets a head start on open enrollment with new ad campaign

Health insurance startup Oscar Health will get an early jump on advertising for the 2018 open enrollment period, as the federal government significantly scales back its own contributions to the effort. 

Oscar launched the advertising effort on Monday, about six weeks before open enrollment is slated to begin, and the "Covered" campaign will include print, TV, digital and billboard advertising. It's the earliest Oscar has ever launched advertising for open enrollment, according to an announcement emailed to FierceHealthcare. 

Open enrollment ads are running in NYC. (Oscar Health)

Significant cuts to open enrollment outreach from the Trump administration partially spurred the early start, Oscar Vice President of Marketing Sara Rowghani said in an interview with National Public Radio. 

"Particularly in this year of uncertainty, it's really important for us to be in market early and reassure the 22 million folks that are insured that it is really important to get covered," she said. 

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The Trump administration announced last month that it would drastically slash the outreach budget for the upcoming open enrollment period. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will spend $10 million this year, compared with $100 million for advertising for 2017's open enrollment. 

The move has drawn ire from some insurance commissioners, who say that funding is desperately needed to reach rural areas. Alaska Insurance Director Lori Wing-Heier and Pennsylvania's acting Health and Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller both expressed concern about the cuts at one of four bipartisan Senate hearings on healthcare. 

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CMS also shorted the open enrollment window for 2018. Affordable Care Act enrollment councilors were already getting a head start on outreach for open enrollment before the cuts were revealed out of fear of sabotage from the White House. 

"Covered" ads in New York City subway (Oscar Health)
The Oscar campaign represents a departure from the cartoon-style look and feel of its previous collateral. 

"In years past, our campaigns focused on introducing Oscar and why we’re different from other health insurers," Marketing VP Sara Rowghani said in a post on the payer's site. 

"We used friendly and approachable characters in these ads, simply communicating our love of technology, real talk, and pop culture. These campaigns gave people a clear sense of Oscar’s brand personality and our unique approach to health insurance."

New ads will tell stories that feature "real Oscar members and their health care experiences" and will "transcend politics, partisanship, and policy," she said.  

As part of its insurance offerings this year, Oscar will provide "intuitive" plan designs and enrollment tools that will make it simple for people to sign up for its coverage, according to the announcement. Enrollees will be matched with a concierge team that includes three "care guides" and a registered nurse, who are accessible around the clock by phone or an in-app message. 

Oscar offers plans in New York, New Jersey, California, Texas, Ohio (co-branded with the Cleveland Clinic) and Tennessee (co-branded with Humana).