The selling of health insurance

A healthcare reform specialist helps people select insurance plans at the free Affordable Care Act (ACA) Enrollment Fair at Pasadena City College on November 19, 2013 in Pasadena, California.  

In a sign insurers are all in with the Affordable Care Act, the industry is expected to spend about $500 million on television ads in the coming year.

Thanks to the new healthcare law, there’s a landslide of new customers on the way. And that’s shaking up the insurance industry.

Kantar Media’s Elizabeth Wilner says these new ads are a window into the business.

“The changes that are being forced on the industry by the Affordable Care Act are going to be visible to anyone watching television,” she says.

For years, insurance companies marketed to human resources departments and insurance brokers.  But now, under the Affordable Care Act, millions of consumers will be comparing one plan to another, looking at price and which doctors and hospitals are included in the coverage.

It amounts to the first time insurers have had to sell themselves -- their brand -- to you and me. Cigna is doing it with its “Go You” campaign, which Wilmer calls the “epitome” of this new brand of advertising, in which firms are shelling out plenty of money to convince consumers they are hip, friendly, warm and caring.

“The market is sort of sticky, so once you enroll a bunch of people you tend to hang onto them for a while,” says Case Western’s J.B. Silvers, who has run an insurance company. “So that first pass is really important.”

With so many customers up for grabs -- many who are totally new to the market -- fortunes are out there to be won, and not just for the big guys.

Case in point: Maine, where the smaller of two players in the state market, Maine Community Health Options, has signed up 73 percent of consumers on the exchange, according to federal figures, far more than the other provider, Anthem Blue Cross.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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