Happy to be wrong: Millions of consumers check out exchanges

Not only will I admit I was wrong, but I'm also pleased to do so. Last week, I suggested the health insurance exchanges would likely open to pin-drop silence. But that certainly wasn't the case.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services estimates the federal exchange saw 7 million unique visits in the first few days. Although I wouldn't describe those numbers as representing a bustle of activity, it was hardly so quiet you could hear a pin drop across the Internet either.

I couldn't be more pleased to be wrong.

And insurers can expect to see more consumers logging on and shopping on the exchanges in the coming six-month open enrollment period amid wide marketing and education campaigns. The Obama administration, for example, launched a social media promotional campaign using the hashtag #GetCovered. Celebrities, politicians and others have been posting on social media websites like Twitter and Facebook to motivate consumers to check out the exchanges.

"The #GetCovered hashtag will be seen by millions of Americans and provide an opportunity to share information, pictures and video with their friends, neighbors and fans," said Tara McGuinness, a White House spokesperson.

Actresses Alyssa Milano and Kerry Washington as well as music artists John Legend, Lady Gaga and Pearl Jam are some of the celebrities who are promoting the exchanges.

And insurers themselves are initiating marketing campaigns around the online marketplaces. "We need to not only protect our turf, but we've got to acquire our fair share of the new market that's up for grabs, because a segment of consumers are going to be looking to different sources for information," WellPoint Chief Marketing Officer Patrick Blair said.

Dovetail these outreach efforts with the well-known fact that Americans have a tendency toward procrastination and I think we have a recipe for large numbers of consumers enrolling in exchange plans by December, the deadline for consumers to sign up if they want coverage to start Jan. 1. Many healthcare experts predict consumers will visit exchange websites several times before they actually enroll in a plan.

Admittedly, a lot of the unique visits to the federal- and state-based marketplaces likely stem from consumers curious about the available plans. Most of them haven't actually purchased any coverage yet. So that means insurers and state and federal officials have a few more months to reach out to the public and encourage them to shop on the exchanges.

Although technical glitches are still plaguing many exchange websites, and could continue for the next few weeks, these bumps in the road will probably be gone before consumers log on to actually select their health plans.

New technology platforms inevitably invite naysayers who "will find something to criticize and find something negative," says Omar Hussain, CEO of the healthcare IT security company Imprivata. "This is just a new system, with new glitches. I'm sure they have a lot of challenges. The design will improve, the capability will improve, but the important part is transforming an industry." - Dina (@HealthPayer)

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