Why Payers Are Seeking More Consumer “Likes”

By Scott Rotermund

It’s no secret that payers are not well liked among consumers. In fact, recent data shows that only seven percent of consumers trust their health plan, only slightly better than the likes of oil and tobacco companies.

Additionally — and maybe even more importantly — when looking for health advice, only 18 percent of consumers turn to their health plan, which is startlingly close to employers at 12 percent.

With a reputation for being stuck in concrete towers locked away from the real world, health insurance companies are increasingly working to connect with consumers and up their likability.

In their defense, health insurance companies earned a sour reputation of being the evil ogre denying claims because of how the market defined their role. It was a check and balance in the clinical system of physicians prescribing care and health plans assessing the value of it.

Now, with the rollout of Obamacare — be it good or bad — the payer’s role has changed along with its business model. Health plans are looking at the entirety of their populations rather than those seeking treatment. That is going from the 15 percent of its population that is in the “sickcare” system at any given time to 100 percent of the population, a startling and overwhelming change.

This shift is driven by the moral and economical desire to 1) prevent people from sliding into the sickcare system by keeping them healthy, and 2) build brand loyalty to retain low risk members. Retention is a primary focus for health insurance organizations, as the health insurance industry is now similar to the car insurance industry. People can shop around and receive premium reductions for good health just as they do for good driving. Innovating and transforming the customer experience is more important than ever as consumers are empowered to choose the payer of their choice.

How does an entire industry change its reputation from being the school principal to class president? It starts by building an emotional connection and providing something that genuinely impacts their life. It’s not passing out free one-size-fits-all t-shirts, but connecting with consumers on an individual level and getting them to take action.

Playing a more active role in optimizing consumers’ health is a huge leap for payers and inherently may not be immediately welcomed by consumers. Here are some down and dirty tips for health plans looking to become the cool kids in healthcare:

  • Personalization. We also need to acknowledge that healthcare is not one size fits all and start addressing populations as individuals. These companies have collected all of this data and created a centralized hub for it, but now what? It’s not enough to have a database of steps or restless hours of sleep; people need personalized guidance and support.
  • You can’t appease the masses. Take a personalized approach to supporting consumers in achieving their health and wellness goals. Similar to what we are seeing in the clinical setting with personalized medicine, personalized healthcare will have a greater impact and results. This is challenging when you managing a population of millions, which leads into the next tip.
  • If it works … partner with it. Some national plans have allocated millions into wellness and prevention programs and have not seen significant uptake. Take a card from cross industry collaborations like Apple and Mercedes and forge partnerships with companies that already have the asset or relationship you are looking to build. Companies that have a consumer mindset and can deliver an experience that may be outside a health plans’ expertise. Today’s on-demand, multi-mobile consumer expects to have a solution that speaks directly to them, about them. By leveraging a health optimization platform to deploy a personalized, interactive experience, payers have an effective and efficient way to support consumers in improving their health. Plus, a true integration platform will allow payers to plug in existing programs such as video health coaches or other digital resources so those investments to date pay off too.
  • Provide optimal rewards for optimal health. While one may assume that it’s human nature to take care of yourself, its been proven that incentivizing consumers for healthier behaviors pays off for everyone. In a recent survey, 96 percent of consumers said they would be healthier if rewarded. From premium reductions to badges, incentive-based tools can be the extra motivation consumers need to make a healthy choice or address chronic decisions. Payers can build a more “rewarding” relationship with consumers by celebrating both participation and outcomes with their members.

These activities are helping payers power up their relationship and the health of their population. Consumers will soon view their insurers as health advocates guiding them through an increasingly complicated healthcare system and toward a healthier way of life.

The original article appeared on HISTalk in August 2014.