The consultants hired to help Tennesseans sign up for health insurance on the Affordable Care Act marketplace have their work cut out for them. At a kickoff event Wednesday, they were reminded that the White House has cut 90 percent of the advertising budget and shortened the open enrollment period by half.
At the Belcourt Theater, songwriters performed to help pump up volunteers and so-called "navigators" for the six-week open enrollment period. A slideshow of photos prominently featuring President Obama played on a giant screen.
With all the efforts to damage Obamacare by the Trump Administration, the biggest headwind for insurance sign ups may be that people think Obamacare was repealed this year by Republicans in Congress.
"They tried to kill it, and we tend to believe that memory that we have of it being killed. But it's still there and we still need to get enrolled," says Barbara Futer, an attorney volunteering with outreach in Tennessee who is on an Obamacare plan herself.
According to survey data by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly one-in-five Americans think they're no longer required to get coverage under the individual mandate, even though they are.
"That is really a hard one to hurdle over because the noise is so loud, and that's why we just have to be louder," says Sharon Barker. She's one of Tennessee's two-dozen navigators, who take appointments with people who need to get insurance.
She says the outreach effort is going to have to be more grassroots than ever. That's why she's wearing her "Get Covered Tennessee" shirt even when she's at the grocery store and distributing the toll-free help line (844-644-5443) anywhere there might be people who are uninsured, like at Davidson County's drug court.
While the federal government is not going out of its way to promote signups, state officials are doing their own publicity. Insurance commissioner Julie Mix McPeak says in a statement that a team is ready to answer questions, especially for people who had plans with Humana, which is no longer on the Tennessee marketplace.
Prices of insurance plans have risen dramatically this year. But they shouldn't go up any more before 2018, even though President Trump has decided to cut certain payments to insurance companies that help offset out-of-pocket expenses for qualifying enrollees.
“Tennessee’s individual insurance market remains challenged,” McPeak says. “However, it is important to remember that health insurance coverage is available everywhere in the state. We continue to encourage consumers to shop for the best available plan for their individual situations and preferences."