Healthcare reform ad battle heats up

The Affordable Care Act has unleashed a flurry of political and product advertising, including about $40 million in ACA-related television ads by Cigna and Kaiser Permanente between Dec. 1 and Feb. 8, according to The Washington Post.

Health insurers have plenty of skin in the ACA enrollment game, with much to lose if customers fail to sign up and much to gain if they do. Vying for the lion's share of an expanded individual market, payers are making the move from business-to-business to business-to-consumer marketing. They're trying to steer the uninsured to their products, acknowledging confusing aspects of the marketplaces and publicizing the March 31 deadline to enroll or face a penalty, the Post noted.

ACA opponents likewise are busy with media campaigns. Since August, the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) spent $27 million in anti-ACA advertising, according to the ad tracking firm Kantar Media. The ads, which mostly aired locally, bashed the ACA and its supporters, calling the law "the lie of the year" or a "disaster" in an effort to defeat battleground-state Democrats running in upcoming elections, Kantar Vice President Elizabeth Wilner wrote in The Cook Political Report.

Insurers' ads, conversely, air on network television and describe reform in more neutral terms. Late last year, payer ads sidestepped specific references to the reform law while its implementation wrinkles were getting ironed out, but now some recent ads mention the ACA. Moreover, insurers boosted their ad spending to $34.1 million during the first week of December after the government announced its repair of HealthCare.gov, Wilner noted in the blog post.   

"What will be interesting to see," Wilner wrote, "is whether insurers change their ad messaging or strategies [in the fall], when their ads seeking sign-ups will be competing with, most likely, some of the most intense and vitriolic political advertising against the ACA in its short but eventful life."

For more:
- see the Washington Post article
- read the Cook Political Report blog post

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