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Missouri Pulls Out Stops, But Lags Better-Funded Illinois Effort

Free food and music are notorious for attracting young people; at least that’s the hope of Missouri insurance enrollment counselors.

Before the March 31 deadline under the Affordable Care Act, groups are beefing up their campaigns to bring last-minute customers to the federal health insurance marketplace—especially young people.

Cover Missouri — a coalition of 400 organizations led by the Missouri Foundation for Health — has 130 enrollment events statewide this month. The St. Louis Effort for Aids, for example, planned the Rock Enroll event last Saturday.

Four bands played while attendees munched on Don Carlos tacos. Upstairs, five certified application counselors helped consumers apply for health insurance online and select a plan.

Nancy Kelley, event coordinator, said she hoped to attract “young invincibles,” people younger than 35 who typically believe they don’t need insurance.

For Hilary Albers, 27, the food and music were “definitely not the allure. The allure was the navigator.” Albers walked away with an insurance plan.

For many others, the event was about supporting friends who were performing music. Some said they were already insured. Others said they plan to use the marketplace to shop for coverage. By the end of the event, 10 people had enrolled in health insurance.

Ryan Barker, vice president of health policy at the foundation, said that social media has been an important tool. One Facebook chat event for Cover Missouri had as many as 300 people in the conversation at once.

Kelley said she pulled off the Rock Enroll fair with a $1,100 budget. But without any help from the state and limited funding from the federal government, it’s been an uphill battle. Missouri’s Republican-controlled state Legislature declined to participate in the implementation of the law.

By the end of January, more than 54,000 Missourians had signed up for a private plan through the marketplace, short of the 73,160 projected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. By the end of this month, that target will be 118,000.

Cover Missouri had its own goal: sign up 200,000 on Medicaid and private plans. After the federal website suffered two months of glitches, though, Barker said he thinks 130,000 might be more realistic.

Things look very different in Illinois, which  has had money and support to get out its message. The state backed the Affordable Care Act and by agreeing to participate in a partnership exchange with the federal government, got $35 million for marketing and outreach. That has gone into the Get Covered Illinois campaign.

Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, even declared March 1-8 Get Covered Illinois Week, and Soldier Field in Chicago lit up in orange to honor the campaign logo’s color.

“It’s a way of attracting attention and reminding people of something really serious, which is their health,” said Jennifer Koehler, executive director of Get Covered.

By the end of January, Illinois was virtually on par with the federal government’s target for the state. The goal was 88,660 enrollments on the marketplace, and Illinois reached 88,602.

Sabrina Miller, spokeswoman for Get Covered Illinois, said she is “absolutely encouraged” by the enrollment numbers and believes Illinois can reach the final target of 143,000 by March 31.