Video: Health insurance company advertises by goofing on Obamacare

Say you’re a health insurer who decided not to jump into the exchanges fearing that the colossal Charlie Foxtrot about to visit itself upon the U.S. might not jibe with your branding as a company with the ability to offer a service with a modicum of competence. Say your decision turned out to be quite prescient as the federal exchange (and, to a lesser extent, state exchanges) began to implode before your eyes. Then, say you wanted to produce an ad to attract customers with a nod to your own prescience and competence as compared with the federal exchange.

Behold, the insurance schadenfreude ad, produced by Wellmark, a part of Blue Cross Blue Shield that opted out of exchanges.

“There’s More Than One Place to Buy Health Insurance”

I’m always a fan of an ad that highlights a company’s hesitance to collude with the government. It allows me to dream that perhaps, perhaps!, the idea of operating independently of the feds, without bailouts or preferential treatment or being in bed with them on regulation, might appeal to regular Americans. The moment that becomes a bonafide selling point, the market and the government will both be healthier. Ford made a commercial with a similar message in 2011 but it didn’t last long, getting pulled from rotation after the White House made a few calls. Ford maintains it was removed from the air for routine reasons.

Ed Haislmaier reads the tea leaves:

First off, the insurer, Wellmark, is the parent company of the Iowa and South Dakota Blue Cross plans. It is the largest insurer in both states. Wellmark currently accounts for 78 percent of the individual health-insurance market and 75 percent of the employer group market in Iowa. In South Dakota it has 73 percent of the individual market and 50 percent of the group market. So, this is not some marginal player, or an upstart trying to attract attention. Rather, this is an “establishment” company talking.

Second, of the 62 Blue Cross Blue Shield licensees, only three are not participating in the Obamacare exchanges in 2014, and Wellmark’s Iowa and South Dakota subsidiaries are two of those three. (The third company is Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi.) Seasoned market analysts know that it is always a good idea to pay attention to what the “contrarians” are up to.

Back in mid August, an attendee at a conference of Iowa health-insurance agents told me that Wellmark had opted to stay out of the exchanges because the company did not expect—based on the way things were then going—that the exchanges would be “a positive customer experience.” Translation: Apparently Wellmark did not want to risk tarnishing its brand by associating with what was shaping up to be a disaster.

Haislmaier notes Wellmark still may get into exchanges in 2015, but is gauging its decision based on how the exchange winds blow. This ad says, “Hey, they may be trying to destroy the individual health care market with their idiocy, but we’re still here.” I wonder how many insurers might join them in the months to come.

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