Marlene Gonzalez (L) and Alberto Gonzalez (2nd L) speak with Jose Luis Gonzalez (C), an insurance agent with Sunshine Life and Health Advisors, about purchasing insurance under the Affordable Care Act at a kiosk setup at the Mall of Americas on December 11, 2013 in Miami, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Insurers to the rescue?

It may seem counter-intuitive to think private insurance companies, hardly a reliable ally of the Obama White House, are poised to help give the Affordable Care Act an important boost. But that’s exactly what’s about to happen.
We talked two weeks ago about the strange bedfellows. The L.A. Times reported that industry complains a lot, but “since 2010, they have invested billions of dollars to overhaul their businesses, design new insurance plans and physician practices and develop better ways to monitor quality and control costs. Few industry leaders want to go back to a system that most had concluded was failing, as costs skyrocketed and the ranks of the uninsured swelled.”
To that end, private insurers, eager to enroll millions of new customers, has readied a major investment in making “Obamacare” work. The Wall Street Journal  reports this morning that the industry’s plans are finally being implemented.
A malfunctioning website and confusion over canceled policies have kept millions of Americans from choosing new health plans so far this fall. But with website access improving and the initial deadline to sign up for coverage looming Dec. 23, insurers are starting to blanket the airwaves and social media with glitzy ads urging consumers to buy their plans.
WellPoint Inc. – which has held off for weeks on a planned campaign as problems with the website made it impossible for many consumers to sign up – said it expects to spend up to $100 million by the end of this year on TV, social media and print ads targeting mostly young and healthy people – the consumers it covets most because their premiums will help offset the medical costs of older, sicker policyholders. […]
The enrollment surge has compelled some insurers to snap up TV ad time, said Scott Roskowski, director of business development at TVB. “It’s already very noticeable that the December pace has begun to pick up” with insurer advertising, Mr. Roskowski said. TVB projects that insurers will spend about $500 million on ads on local TV stations in 2014.
This is, as Paul Krugman noted, “the shoe we’ve all been waiting to see drop.” If the industry expected the Affordable Care Act to collapse – or at a minimum, struggle badly for the foreseeable future – insurers would wait on the sidelines. If the industry expected “Obamacare” to succeed, they’d quickly get in the game, competing for consumers’ business before their rivals could snatch up prospective customers.
Now that insurers are poised to spend a half-billion dollars in advertising, it appears the industry is confident the system will prevail.
To hear Republicans tell it, “Obamacare” is in some kind of death spiral, from which there is no recovery. In reality, the ACA reached its nadir a month ago, and is bouncing back quite nicely.