Univision sees health-care act as opportunity
About 10 million Latinos 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 New Jersey, 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 Latinos 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 whether their income qualifies them for subsidized coverage, and then customers can go 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. Obamacare open enrollment begins Oct. 1.
Steve Mandala, Univision's executive vice president of sales and marketing, said 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 added that Univision is also working on arrangements with other insurers to sponsor additional ACA content outside of their hallmark "Salud Es Vida" campaign, and that he expected visitors to the WellPoint-sponsored Health Insurance Center will also be looking elsewhere for insurance information. According to a Univision fact sheet, the sites will also link to government sites, such as www.healthcare.gov and www.coveredca.com.
But, Mandala added, "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 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.
William D. Georges, vice president of marketing and product development for Horizon, said the partnership is a "powerful differentiator" for his company in a state that is likely to have several strong competitors selling insurance on the exchange.
"The partnership with Univision is very important to our success in the exchanges and in our overall mission as a nonprofit Blue. It gives us a nexus and strength into the Hispanic community in New Jersey that we haven't had."
Consumer advocates had a mixed reaction to the rule and the Univision deals.
"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.
Kaiser Health News at www.kaiserhealthnews.org is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.