Oregon is providing a $10,000 bump to a Bend insurance agency’s advertising budget.
Oregon’s Health Insurance Marketplace, the division within the state’s Department of Consumer and Business Services that’s taking over Cover Oregon’s remaining functions, awarded 24 agents across the state $10,000 grants to set up “drop-in enrollment centers.” The idea is to encourage people to enroll in private health insurance plans during open enrollment, which begins Sunday and ends Jan. 31, 2016.
Choosing health insurance policies could be especially difficult this year, as most 2016 individual policies have significantly higher premiums and could still leave policyholders with high out-of-pocket costs. PacificSource Health Plans, for example, is raising rates by an average of 37 percent across its individual policies; Moda Health’s rates will move by 25.6 percent.
Although the Health Insurance Marketplace has a much smaller budget than Cover Oregon did, its leaders believed it was important local agents get more funding to promote enrollment in their communities, said Michael Morter, the marketplace’s agent and small business liaison.
In many parts of the state, Bend included, the enrollment centers will simply be the agency’s regular offices. But in more urban areas like Portland, they’ll likely set up satellite offices in more accessible areas, Morter said.
In Bend, the state chose High Desert Insurance to receive the grant. Kristine Akenson, the agency’s health insurance specialist, said all of the money will go toward advertising, mostly a billboard on U.S. Highway 97 near Chan’s Chinese Restaurant, the same one they used last year.
“It’s a great location where a lot of drivers drive by every day,” she said.
The agency will also buy ads on local TV stations and in publications and will put banners on its storefront, also on Highway 97.
Grant recipients are required to provide space where clients can talk to their agents, be open during normal business hours throughout open enrollment (including until 8 p.m. at least one night per week), provide free parking and handicap accessibility and be located near public transportation.
Akenson said High Desert Insurance will be open until 8 p.m. on Wednesdays during open enrollment, beginning next week.
The money is partially given out so agencies can hire temporary employees to work during open enrollment, although they’re not required to do so, Morter said. High Desert Insurance won’t use the money to hire anyone new, but three employees — including two owners — will work more than usual, Akenson said.
“We will just bump up as needed, which is exactly what we did last year as well,” she said.
Grant recipients will also have to report to the state the number of people they enroll in plans, although they aren’t held to specific quotas, Morter said.
Oregonians will be able to enroll in private plans through the federal exchange, Healthcare.gov. The most important thing to know during open enrollment is that it doesn’t cost people any extra money to see an agent, Akenson said. When agents sell policies, they make commissions from the carriers. The cost of commissions is built into carriers’ budgets, so clients also will not pay more for an individual policy because they used an agent.
“It is free to get our help, and it can really make a difference in whether or not you understand what you have,” Akenson said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0304,