Blue Cross, Univision team up to reach uninsured

Many of the 850,000 Hispanics living in Georgia have no health insurance.

Georgia’s largest health insurer is looking to connect with them through a new deal with Univision, the leading media company focusing on the nation’s Hispanic population.

U.S.-based Univision broadcasts in Spanish and has millions of viewers daily.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia recently announced a partnership with Univision and HolaDoctor — a Hispanic health information and advertising company — to provide information to Hispanic consumers about the Affordable Care Act, including enrollment in the insurance exchange, and the benefits and subsidies offered.

Blue Cross also will be the exclusive health insurance sponsor in the state for Univision’s initiative “Salud Es Vida” (Health is Life).

WellPoint, which owns Blue Cross of Georgia and for-profit Blue plans in 13 other states, recently bought into the Univision partnerships in California, New York, and Colorado as well as Georgia, Kaiser Health News recently reported.

“We look forward to the opportunity to work with Univision and HolaDoctor to provide consumers with valuable information that will help Hispanic consumers make an informed choice,” Morgan Kendrick, president of Blue Cross of Georgia, said in a statement.

The deal appears to be part of a broad effort by Blue Cross to add market share across the state.

The insurer is already sponsoring an education campaign in metro Atlanta in partnership with the Hispanic Health Coalition of Georgia, said Heidy Guzman, the group’s executive director.

Since June, the coalition has been informing the Hispanic community in metro Atlanta about the health law and the changes it brings. “One of the critical issues [for Hispanics] is lack of health insurance and lack of health access,’’ Guzman said Tuesday.

She says about half of Georgia’s Hispanics are currently uninsured. Under the ACA, Guzman said, “They will be able to make a choice. It’s our job and our responsibility to educate them.’’

WellPoint executive Robyn Gilson said Tuesday that the partnership with the Hispanic Health Coalition has discovered that there is little awareness among Hispanics about health reform and even the concept of health insurance itself.

Millions of potential customers

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama recently made personal pleas to Latinos to sign up for coverage under the health law. The exchange, also known as a marketplace, will begin enrolling consumers Oct. 1 as part of the health reform law.

The Obama administration is looking for about 7 million people to sign up for health insurance through marketplaces. The Affordable Care Act exchanges do not offer coverage to people who are in the country illegally.

The WellPoint deals include a Univision website that will be able to connect Latinos with insurance coverage. The collaboration will also include sponsored TV and radio segments and weekly e-newsletters, and monthly community town halls and meetings.

“We are confident that the partnership with Univision will be a positive one for both parties and give Hispanic residents of Georgia affordable and effective options,’’ said Bert Kelly, a spokesman for Blue Cross of Georgia.

The affordability of coverage in Georgia’s exchange was recently questioned by state Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens. Last week, Hudgens grudgingly approved rates submitted by insurers for the marketplace even though the filings contained what he called “massive rate hikes.’’

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Monday that some state reports blaming Obamacare for sharply higher premiums next year were “factually incorrect.” She didn’t specify any states, but her criticism came shortly after GOP-led states such as Georgia, Ohio and Indiana warned of large premium rate hikes due to the ACA, McClatchy Newspapers reported.

Blue Cross, meanwhile, appears on the verge of adding many new members in the Georgia market. The company was selected as the apparent winner of a contract for the state employees health benefits contract, though UnitedHealthcare has filed a protest of that decision.

The State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) covers more than 650,000 state employees, teachers, school personnel, retirees and dependents.

In addition, Amerigroup, recently acquired by WellPoint, has been awarded a state contract to oversee the health care of about 27,000 kids in child welfare programs starting Jan. 1.

Criticism of deal

And Blue Cross is the only health plan that’s offering coverage in every region of the state in the coming insurance exchange.

The Univision deal, meanwhile, has led to some criticism that it would steer consumers to Blue Cross health plans.

Steve Mandala, Univision’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, told Kaiser Health News that any insurer material on the plan-sponsored sites will be clearly labeled as advertisements or sponsored content and will not affect the editorial independence of Univision’s news coverage.

Kelly of Blue Cross added that the Univision website will not provide any information for visitors regarding rates or the types of products that Blue Cross will be offering.

Consumer advocates had a mixed reaction to the Univision deals, according to KHN.

“We want the plans to compete by being the best value for the consumers, not by capturing that consumer early in the process and preventing them from seeing what their options are,” said Lynn Quincy, a senior policy analyst at Consumers Union.

But the challenge to sign qualified people up for insurance is a daunting one, other advocates said.

“At the end of the day, the government will never have the money to have the kind of media campaign we need, so we need the carriers to get involved,” Elisabeth Benjamin, an advocate at the Community Service Society of New York, told Kaiser Health News.

Benjamin said her organization and other groups working on consumer outreach can use all the help they can get to spread the word about the ACA. “My hat’s off to WellPoint — it’s very clever,” she said.