WRAL-TV and CBC Partner with Enroll NC to Help North Carolinians Navigate Open Enrollment
Capitol Broadcasting and WRAL-TV hold public service as a priority. Open enrollment for 2017 health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ended last Tuesday, January 31st, wrapping up CBC’s latest efforts in helping inform the public about their healthcare options, how to enroll and where to get help.
A Starting Place for the ACA in NC
The effort began in 2013 when Sorien Schmidt, North Carolina Director for Enroll America, first met with Corp/WRAL-TV Community Relations Director Loretta Harper-Arnold and station managers at the beginning of the first open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“One of the first things that happened is that we focused and made it a priority to inform the public about what ACA and Marketplace insurance was,” explained Schmidt. “In 2013, over 70% of the public was answering to polls that they had no idea what the Health Insurance Marketplace was nor how ACA worked. Just getting information out was our initial goal.”
That’s when WRAL-TV Anchor/Reporter Renee Chou came in.
“Right after the ACA passed in 2010, the news department recognized that this would be a significant story affecting many of our viewers, for months and years to come,” Chou explained. “WRAL-TV News Director Rick Gall approached me to make the ACA my ‘beat.’ My main focus was generating and covering stories that showed Obamacare’s impact on individuals, families, businesses, the health care industry, and insurers.“
Schmidt said that Chou hit the ground running.
“She took it on to become an expert about the Open Marketplace and how it works in North Carolina,” said Schmidt of Chou. “She interviewed me and others. Renee truly followed things as they developed and did both stories on TV and then WRAL, along with Renee leading the way, developed an incredible webpage of information. She did tutorials on the website about how to enroll, how things worked, etc.”
As the years passed, WRAL annually updated the resource information on WRAL.com, including the tutorials.
WRAL.com not only created the resource section for Enroll NC to share, but provided the tutorials on MP4s on discs for Enroll NC to share with potential clients and organizations. The tutorials are also shown in lobbies, waiting rooms and other locations where the public can see the information.
Going Beyond the Newsroom
The CBC/WRAL-TV efforts went beyond the news stories and web information.
“I also spearheaded and coordinated five Here to Help Phone Banks, working with people who were trained and certified to answer questions about health insurance options,” explained Chou. “Each phone bank fielded thousands of calls. It certainly demonstrated the need by viewers to learn more about the ACA and how it would affect them. The phone banks also helped those who did not have insurance through their employer, or Medicare or Medicaid, to learn about their coverage options and how much it would cost. North Carolina was always in the top 5 states of people enrolling in the health insurance marketplace.”
Schmidt says the 4-7pm Here to Help phone-a-thons made a big difference.
“Renee did an incredible job,” said Schmidt. “I know it was a huge effort, especially when she moved to the Morning News, but it went like clockwork every time from my vantage point. It looked incredible and went really well. I know it took a lot of work on the TV station side and on Renee’s side. Those phone-a-thons were enormously successful with phones ringing off the hook for three straight hours.”
WRAL-TV Anchor/Reporter David Crabtree got in on the endeavor, covering the topic during his locally produced news and interview program “On the Record.”
“I think WRAL has done an incredible job of getting clear information out in a very confusing environment that’s really politicized,” said Schmidt. “WRAL has focused on the who, what, where, when, why.”
Clearing Up Confusion, Reaching Out
This year again, Enroll NC collaborated with WRAL-TV to update the PSAs and tutorials. Many people were confused, thinking the ACA had already been repealed after the new administration took office. Schmidt says WRAL-TV’s PSAs helped clarify.
She explained, “WRAL made simple, clear, beautiful PSAs that they’ve been running all through Open Enrollment with what deadlines are and how to get an appointment with a free in-person assistor. The PSAs have been super helpful, and, I think, just another important piece of the general, broader effort. You guys have such a broad reach and everything is so professionally done. The whole NC general marketplace community is very appreciative of that.”
Schmidt also said that when holding Enroll NC Open Enrollment events, she always knows when one of Chou’s stories airs on WRAL-TV.
“When we have events where people walk in, we asked people, ‘How did you find out about the event?’” said Schmidt. “In Raleigh we consistently have people come in because they said they saw it on TV. Even when WRAL-TV would put up visual of the name, place, hours of the event, while doing narration about what ACA is, etc, we’d have a rush of people come in after that aired. People are finding out about events and how to enroll through WRAL’s efforts.”
CBC also helped with a different kind of phone bank. CBC made conference rooms and phone lines available for Enroll NC staffers and volunteers to come in and call lists of consumers who have enrolled in the past or people who have indicated they needed help with open enrollment.
“CBC let us use the conference room, donated phones, computers and laptops we could use,” said Schmidt. “We could come in and call the list of consumers and let them know ‘now’s the time to enroll’.”
They made thousands of calls to a list of people they had been developing all year long.
Making a Difference
From the beginning when the ACA first came into being, through the current time significant changes are potentially coming, WRAL-TV has been working with Enroll NC to make sure the community understands the basics and knows where to find help.
“The law is a huge overhaul of health insurance and health care as we know it,” said Chou. “It’s complicated and complex, and especially right after the ACA’s passage, few people truly knew what it meant and most people were trying to figure it out. We wanted to help people figure it out. Health access is an issue that affects everyone. We feel it’s an important community service to shine a light on these issues and provide critical information that will enable people to make informed choices about their health care.”
WRAL-TV and WRAL.com already had the ability to reach thousands of North Carolinians, so their resources helped Enroll NC get the word out.
“Capitol Broadcasting has done more than any other broadcasting group in the state in terms of disseminating the information and has been really proactive doing things,” said Schmidt.
Sorien reports that the first year 357,000 enrolled in the Healthcare Marketplace, the second year over 500,000 enrolled, and 613,000 in 2016. As of January 14th, 540,000 had already enrolled in 2017. The final numbers are expected out soon.
“We’ve had the fourth most enrollment every year of all the states,” said Schmidt of NC. “We’ve also had a higher percentage of our un-insured enrolled in the Marketplace. So WRAL-TV/CBC’s efforts have not only reached a lot of people and brought them in but have allowed hundreds of thousands of people to get insurance coverage. People come in to our events, saying ‘I heard this on WRAL,’ get enrolled and are in tears because they are so grateful to have coverage. That’s amazing.”
Thanks to Sorien Schmidt for these capcom photos.