3 firms make pitches to promote exchanges

Three Little Rock firms competing for the contract to promote enrollment in Arkansas' health insurance exchanges for individual consumers and small businesses made presentations to a state board Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a state Insurance Department official said Wednesday that at least one additional insurance company is expected to begin offering plans on the exchanges next year, bringing the total number of companies offering such plans to five.

Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, Mangan Holcomb Partners and Impact Management Group were revealed Wednesday as the firms competing for the contract to promote enrollment in the exchanges being established by the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace.

A nonprofit organization created by the Arkansas Legislature in 2013, the marketplace is using money from a $99.9 million federal grant to set up exchanges that would replace those established for the state by the federal government.

Enrollment in a state-based exchange for small businesses is expected to begin this fall for coverage that will start in January.

Enrollment in the state-based exchange for individual consumers is expected to start next year for coverage that will start in 2017.

The marketing firm hired by the Health Insurance Marketplace will be responsible for designing the website that will replace healthcare.gov as the portal Arkansans use to shop online for coverage in the exchanges.

The firm also will create television and radio advertisements to promote enrollment for coverage starting next year and in 2017.

Mangan Holcomb Partners described itself as the only Arkansas-based firm with experience conducting such a campaign.

It led a $4.3 million campaign, featuring the slogan "Get In," that promoted enrollment in Arkansas' federally run exchange in 2013.

That campaign was scrapped after the Legislative Council refused to review an extension of the Insurance Department's contract with the firm that would have paid to extend the campaign past Oct. 1, 2013.

The Legislature later passed special language prohibiting the Insurance Department from promoting enrollment.

Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods and Impact Management said they would subcontract with firms with experience on similar campaigns.

Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods would subcontract with FleishmanHillard, a St. Louis-based subsidiary of New York-based Omnicon that has worked on campaigns promoting enrollment in federally run exchanges in Missouri and Illinois.

Impact Management would subcontract with New York-based Burson-Marsteller, which has promoted enrollment for state-based exchanges in Idaho and New Mexico.

A marketplace technical evaluation, based on factors such as corporate experience, staffing and work plan, rated Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods the highest, followed by Mangan Holcomb Partners and Impact Management.

Mangan Holcomb Partners' proposal had the lowest cost, $4.9 million, compared with $5.82 million proposed by Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods and $5.876 million for Impact Management.

The board is expected to award a contract at its next meeting, on April 8.

Four insurers -- Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the national Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, St. Louis-based Centene Corp. and Little Rock-based QualChoice Health Insurance -- have offered plans on Arkansas' federally run exchange since enrollment began Oct. 1, 2013.

Deputy Insurance Commissioner Cynthia Crone on Wednesday declined to name the additional company that hopes to offer plans on the exchange during the next open enrollment period, which will start Nov. 1.

The deadline for insurance companies to apply to offer such plans is April 8.

Metro on 03/26/2015