Some 10 million Hispanics stand to gain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and the Spanish-language media network Univision is positioning itself as a direct path to this potentially lucrative market.
WellPoint and other Blues insurers in six states including Florida have signed deals with Univision for undisclosed sums to be the exclusive health insurance sponsor of the network’s Peabody-award winning health initiative, Salud Es Vida, which means Health Is Life.
The deals include a special plan-sponsored Univision website that will be able to connect Hispanics with coverage on the online markets, or exchanges, that will serve individuals beginning in October. But it’s a path that could take a detour around some competitors who are offering plans: Because of a little-known rule proposed by the administration in June, customers will be able to buy their subsidized Obamacare insurance directly from the insurer.
The rule allows a customer to be sent briefly to a special section of the federal or state-run marketplaces only to see if their income qualifies them for subsidized coverage, and then they can go right back to the WellPoint or Blues site to buy their coverage. These customers may not necessarily see the other options for insurance available on the exchange, and the other plans may cost less or include a wider provider network.
WellPoint, which owns for-profit Blues plans in 14 states, recently bought into the Univision partnerships in California, New York, Colorado and Georgia. Two nonprofit plans have also signed Univision partnerships: Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, and Florida Blue. Additional carriers are expected to sign deals in other states as the industry ramps up for Obamacare open enrollment that begins Oct. 1.
Steve Mandala, Univision’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, says that any insurer material on the plan-sponsored sites will be clearly labeled as advertisements or sponsored content and will not impact the editorial independence of Univision’s news coverage.
He adds that Univision is also working on arrangements with other insurers to sponsor additional ACA content outside of their hallmark Salud Es Vida campaign, and he expects visitors to the WellPoint-sponsored Health Insurance Center will also be looking elsewhere for insurance information. A fact sheet released by Univision following Kaiser Health News’ questions on this story says the sites will also link to the government sites such as, healthcare.gov and coveredca.com.
But, Mandala adds, “We are a for-profit business, and we feel we have every opportunity here to offer any insurer” advertising packages.
The deals are one of the most concrete ways to date that insurers have invested in the marketing of Obamacare, but they also could skirt a key principle of the law: that it should foster insurer competition and consumer choice.
“The initial concept that we had for the Univision health insurance center is for it to feel as though you’re walking into a Florida Blue retail center,” says Steve Snell, vice president of enterprise marketing for Florida Blue. “Our goal first and foremost is awareness. A lot of folks who are currently uninsured may never have signed up for insurance before.”
The site will have basic information about how health insurance works, and will also have a “shop our plans” section that will allow consumers to toggle directly over to a Florida Blue site in Spanish, where they can purchase coverage.