Doubling Down

Cover Oregon officials say ads are paying off.

Educating Oregonians about the state's new health insurance exchange, Cover Oregon, is a daunting proposition—and more than twice as expensive as originally reported. 

Cover Oregon is the local outpost of President Obama's Affordable Care Act and is charged with offering health insurance to as many of the 560,000 uninsured Oregonians as possible. Surveys nationally and locally have shown that most people do not understand what's happening. 

"On a basic level, we were a new brand and a new type of business," says Cover Oregon spokesman Michael Cox. "The idea of a health-care marketplace is a new idea and not a common idea for most people."

Cover Oregon got a $226 million federal grant in January. That money is for technology, personnel and education—and much of that education will come in the form of advertising.

In April, Cover Oregon issued a request for proposals for an ad agency. Eight firms responded, Cox says, and North won. The original contract was for $9.9 million. A series of 30-second ads began rolling out in July. (For a discussion of the ads themselves, click here.)

State officials say baseline awareness of Cover Oregon was low. "Awareness of Cover Oregon is exceptionally low (6 percent) across all audience demographics," the survey said. "Very few Oregonians have a solid understanding of what Cover Oregon is or exactly how they stand to benefit from it."

Market studies conducted for the campaign show awareness of Cover Oregon is now at 72 percent. Cox said the campaign has moved out of its introductory phase and will soon start describing more of the mechanics of how people can sign up.

Cox says Cover Oregon decided based on surveys that the initial ad campaign was not big enough and so increased it from $9.9 million to $21.4 million. Almost all of the additional money will go to the production and airing of new ads.

“As we moved forward we decided to invest much more heavily,” Cox says.  “We studied the baseline survey and realized the task in front of us was a real challenge.”

Cox says the feds signed off on the increase because they understand how difficult getting the message out to hundreds of thousands of Oregonians is. Cover Oregon's key metric will be membership. The agency's goal is to sign up more than 200,000 Oregonians by the end of 2014.