Cover Oregon Takes Outreach Strategy Online

The state exchange held a forum on Reddit recently, and is considering hosting more online education events in the future
The Lund Report

September 4, 2013 -- As Cover Oregon prepares to launch the state health insurance marketplace this fall, it's held nine community events – all of which have been packed – and plans to hold two more before it begins enrolling people in October.

In addition to in-person events and a much-discussed advertising campaign, Cover Oregon is also trying to reach Oregonians online to educate them about the insurance options available in the coming months. Recently the exchange hosted a forum on reddit.com to address questions about the chat. Cover Oregon spokesperson Ariane Holm said over 500 people pre-registered to participate in the forum, which focused on who can receive financial assistance and the process for receiving such help. The site's Ask Me Anything forums allow registered users to ask questions of a designated guest.

Past guests have ranged from “Simpsons” actor Harry Shearer to President Barack Obama. The guest only answers questions for a short time, and often doesn't get a chance to respond to everything. Perhaps due to confusion over the format for the forum, which was publicized as a “live chat” some users complained that their questions were not answered, or were puzzled by the slow speed with which answers were added to the forum.

“Each day we get a lot of different questions from consumers. One of the most important questions we get is about financial help,” Holm said.

Those who posed very specific questions about complex personal situations were referred to Cover Oregon's toll-free customer service line (1-855-CoverOR).

Others asked about the relationship between Cover Oregon and the Oregon Health Plan's lottery system, with some finding out for the first time that OHP's lottery system will come to an end Jan. 1 due to the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which will cover people whose incomes reach 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Others were frustrated at the lack of information on the Medicaid Expansion: “Again, Cover Oregon has been very informative, but OHP seems to keep us in the dark,” according to one person.

Even a simple FAQ [Frequently Asked Questions document] about the expansion on their website would be a massive improvement,” another wrote.

Holm said Cover Oregon is considering a few different options for more online outreach events – including Twitter town hall chats, Google hangouts and online chats in Spanish, with the latter being part of an ongoing effort to reach and enroll more Latino Oregonians.

Financial assistance was the subject of the Reddit forum because it's such a common subject of questions from customers, Holm said, but future events will likely focus on other topics – although the specifics have not been fleshed out yet.

“We're kind of monitoring what questions we're frequently getting and tailoring the topics based on those questions,” Holm said.

Earlier this month, Cover Oregon announced its fall launch would be somewhat limited. Customer service staff at the exchange will, at first, direct customers toward insurance agents and community partners – community organizations and centers around the state – who will guide them through what they anticipate will be a complex application process. Exchange staff anticipate that the online launch will be fully available to consumers by the end of October.

“They'll be directed to a community partner or agent and they can really help them walk through the application process,” Holm said. The exchange has trained more than 1000 insurance agents and is also working with community organizations to get word out about the exchange.

Later this month, Cover Oregon will hold town hall events in Coos Bay and Medford, a small business training in Portland and a media webinar about the website launch.

Christen McCurdy can be reached at christen@thelundreport.org.

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