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By Suzanne Schlattman, Maryland Health Care for All Coalition

I’m not a big fan of football, but I’m a HUGE fan of the Ravens, and here’s why:


In 2008, we partnered with Health Care Access Maryland, the Baltimore Ravens and Governor Martin O’Malley to launch a Medicaid enrollment campaign. The goal of the campaign was to appeal to parents who became newly eligible for Medicaid thanks to a 2008 state law that expanded eligibility for parents earning up to 116% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL.)


We raised $250,000 from local foundations to support prime-time radio ads, billboard, busboards and community outreach consultants. Health Care Access Maryland also partnered with Baltimore City’s 311 city services number to accept direct transfers from callers seeking health insurance coverage.

Have a listen: (click on poster to hear the ad)

Pretty cool, huh?


These ads resulted in 10,000 Baltimore City residents gaining health care coverage within the first year of the program’s enrollment—far exceeding the state’s expectations.  In addition, we saw a similar rise in CHIP enrollment—further supporting the idea that when parents are eligible, kids are more likely to gain coverage.


Fast forward to 2013: Maryland is poised to implement another major expansion of the Medicaid program thanks to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Maryland, like California, has been on the forefront of states working to implement the law and is likely to implement full Medicaid expansion to 138% FPL.  Of the nearly 300,000 Marylanders who are expected to gain coverage, 2/3 of them will likely be insured through the state’s Medicaid program.


What can we learn from this past campaign to support broad take-up and easy enrollment now?


  • Football sells!

These ads got everyone’s attention—men, women, and children. A spokesman with that kind of appeal can be critical to the success of outreach and enrollment media campaigns and they can be especially hard to find.  Featuring a man, helped increase awareness and enrollment among men who may have previously assumed that medical assistance was just for children and pregnant women. Wouldn’t it be great if all NFL teams were as awesome as the Ravens and supported similar local health care enrollment efforts? (It can’t hurt to ask!)


  • Keep it simple.

Partnering with the city’s 311 line increased traffic to the enrollment hotline at Health Care Access Maryland. It was a number people were already familiar with and it was easier to remember than a full eleven digit hotline number.  We also streamlined enrollment so that multiple family members could enroll through a single application.


Another way to keep it simple is to figure out what works best for your audience and allocate resources appropriately.  Hotline staff asked everyone who called in  how they found out about the program. We found that the radio ads and earned media coverage generated far greater volume of applications than the busboards and billboards in targeted neighborhoods. Several months later, we fine tuned our approach and replicated our success in the Washington DC suburbs through a partnership with Chris Samuels of the Washington Redskins and United Way’s 211 system. As a result, we proportionally increased enrollment in that region as well.


  • Kids win when parents get covered.

In addition to the 10,000 adults who gained coverage, we saw a dramatic increase in the number of eligible kids enrolling into CHIP. As more families access coverage through Medicaid and/or our Exchange, we look forward to seeing more kids with coverage. We will use what we learned from this campaign with the Ravens to target paid and earned media, streamline and simplify enrollment, promote a simple hotline with extended hours as a part of a full-service Navigator program.


Baltimore’s beloved Ray Lewis, who will be retiring after this season, leaves us with these words of wisdom: “Greatness is a collection small things done well, stacked up on top of each other.” Maryland has made steady progress toward our end-goal of health care for all, engaging stakeholders—from tiny nonprofits like ours to the superstars who are the Baltimore Ravens—in every small step along the way to fully implement the ACA. As a result, we have a strong foundation and a bright future—an Exchange Board with active purchasing authority, robust standards for QHPs, and powerful political and popular support for full Medicaid expansion.


Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, the Ravens have made us proud and we honored by their partnership in our efforts to expand access to quality, affordable health care for all Marylanders.