Contractors hoping to win work marketing health care options


Bruce L. Caswell, president and general manager of Maximus’s health services division, at his office in Reston in April. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN)
August 4, 2013

With the technical part of building state and federal health insurance exchanges mostly complete, contractors are now hoping to find work communicating with potential customers.

Companies from Adobe to Maximus are looking to work that will involve first-hand interaction with citizens, meaning they must prepare to combat misinformation and boil down complex decisions.

Adobe, which has a government-focused office in Tysons Corner, has already been working with state exchanges, which are online marketplaces that allow individuals to shop for insurance coverage. The company said it previously won work providing its digital signature technology to Rhode Island’s exchange, so that users can produce a legally binding signature even on an iPad, and has sold software to California that allows enrollees to automatically populate forms so that they save time.

Now, said Michael Jackson, director of health care strategy and solutions at Adobe Systems, states and the federal government are directing attention to interacting with users.

“Within the last three to six months, a lot of attention has shifted to driving awareness, outreach to the citizens and various communities ... to drive participation to the exchanges,” he said.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services confirmed that it is gearing up for a public education campaign. The agency tacked $33 million onto an initial $8 million contract awarded to Weber Shandwick, a public relations firm, to handle media and digital outreach. Weber Shandwick did not return requests for comment.

The agency has also relaunched Healthcare.gov, a site meant to help consumers learn about their options. CMS said the site will add information and, by October, customers will be able to create accounts, fill out a single application and shop for plans on the site.

Even before the Oct.1 deadline for exchanges to go live, customer service centers are opening. Reston-based Maximus, for instance, opened its center in Maryland last week.

It’s too early for customers to enroll in insurance plans yet, but the center is available to handle residents’ questions, said Bruce L. Caswell, president and general manager of the company’s health services segment.

Maximus has won work managing seven state customer service centers, including that of the District and Maryland, as well as managing two federal centers as subcontractors to Falls Church-based General Dynamics.

For center representatives, “it’s important that they have good phone skills, good customer interaction skills,” Caswell said. “It’s a bit of the art rather than the science.”

These employees are trained on how to help customers as well as the details of the insurance plans available. Caswell said the centers often offer representatives who speak several different languages, as well as use an interpretation service to broaden that number.

Maximus is focused on “being able to meet consumers on their own terms,” Caswell said. “Being linguistically appropriate and culturally appropriate is super important to us.”

Hoping to handle social media outreach for the government, Adobe is pitching its experience providing these services for some commercial health care providers.

Adobe’s service includes responding to tweets that ask questions or share wrong information to promote the accurate message.

In the private sector, customers are becoming accustomed to tweeting at companies — from phone service providers to cable companies — for help.

“I do feel like the public sector is starting to learn from what’s happening in the private sector,” Jackson said.

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