BlueCross: 133K Tennesseans have paid for marketplace health insurance

With better education push, company expects more enrollees next year

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, the state's largest insurer, announced last week that more than 133,000 Tennesseans signed up and paid for health insurance policies through the federal marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act.

Henry Smith, BlueCross' senior vice president and chief marketing officer, said that number was approximately 85 percent of BlueCross' total Tennessee enrollees, with 15 percent failing to pay their first premium to secure coverage. Smith said volumes were extremely high during the open enrollment period, at one point reaching 20,000 sign-up calls in one day, with an average of 3.5 calls per enrollee to obtain coverage.

"We have to dynamically change, from an operations perspective, what kind of staffing we are going to need," Smith said. "We learned, given the numbers, we probably didn't get enough outreach and education done. Nobody would call back three times to buy something if they understood what they were buying."

Smith said the open enrollment marketplace has radically changed the entire insurance industry. Traditionally, he said, insurance has been a business-to-business model, but BlueCross and its competitors have had to completely re-evaluate how they market to and communicate with the public.

Notably, 30 percent of the marketplace policies were sold in Nashville. Sixteen percent were sold in Knoxville, 14 percent in Memphis and 11 percent in Chattanooga. Twenty-six percent of enrollees are 18 to 34 years old, and 80 percent of enrollees received a premium subsidy. (Click here for BlueCross' release from last week.) Nationally, more than 8 million people signed up for coverage.

Smith said BlueCross intends to continue its community outreach programs indefinitely, and the company expects the number of enrollees to increase.

"We would project a higher number [of enrollees] in year two than in year one," Smith said. "With the education factors — and there were a lot of people who took a wait-and-see perspective — I'm optimistic there will be more."