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Obamacare's opening day

Karen Basha Egozi, Chief Executive Officer with Epilepsy Foundation Florida, takes an on-line course to become a 'navigator' for the Affordable Care Act when exchanges open on October 1st, on September 17, 2013 in Doral, Florida.

The curtain opens October 1 on a key part of President Obama’s health care reform law. The exchanges, where people can buy health insurance, will be going online. We got to thinking it’s a lot like opening day for a movie, which is the only day Hollywood cares about. But how much does opening day matter for the exchanges?

If you’re producing a big, expensive movie like the new "Hunger Games" sequel, you need to make a huge splash, right away. So, you start promoting the film months in advance with trailers that promise lots of action. The fate of a would-be blockbuster hangs not on opening day, but on a film’s opening hours. 

“After the first show, we know,” says Peter Broderick, a film distribution strategist.

Broderick says it’s make or break. “A studio may have a plan and hopes for a movie and then, if it does very poorly to start with how much are they going to support it along the way?”

Especially if people are telling their friends how awful it was. Jonah Berger, who teaches marketing at the Wharton School, says the debut of the health  care exchanges is like any new product launch. Word of mouth will be extremely important. 

“The first time the Swiffer comes out for example -- what’s a Swiffer?" Berger says. "People look to see, do other people like this product or not? Is this movie good? Is it getting good reviews?”

But the health care exchanges will enter opening day with a disadvantage new movies and products don’t have. The exchanges are already getting bad reviews from opponents of health care reform who have spent millions and millions on ads. 

Len Nichols, a health care economist at George Mason University, says if the exchanges have a good opening day, people could pile in fast. But, he says even if opening day is a mess, it won’t be like at the movies.

“And let’s just say they call, and the first day there’s a glitch," he says. "They’re not going to say I’m not going to get health insurance. They’re going to call back in a week.”

Nichols says the exchanges don’t have an opening day -- they have an opening six months, plenty of time to make a first impression. Not to mention, if you’re uninsured, they may be the only show in town.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.
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