The health insurance world is shifting, creating new variables for brokers and their customers shopping for and enrolling in health plans. Helping consumers make the right choice from among dozens of health plans and ancillary options is one of the most important services brokers and agents can offer their clients. And the best way to help someone is by first understanding them.
Last year, Connecture conducted an extensive survey of more than 2,100 health care consumers (both men and women of different ages and income levels) to find out how people shop for health insurance, what they prioritize in that search and what they expect from their health plan investment. Not surprising, we found that many Americans think shopping for and enrolling in health insurance is a stressful and dissatisfying experience.
» 55 percent said they are frustrated that they can’t afford any of the plan options available to them.
» 51 percent said that they don’t understand what certain plans would really cost them over the course of the year.
» 43 percent experienced stress over the number of plan choices.
With sobering statistics like these, it’s no wonder that employers, employees and other consumers have cited brokers as one of the most trusted stakeholders in health insurance. But as our industry continues to transform, so must brokers. And there are several ways brokers can ensure that consumers are happy (and stay happy) with their health benefit choices.
1. Invest in decision-support technology
According to our survey, 87 percent of consumers prefer to shop and enroll in health coverage on their own — but only 20 percent actually complete the process by themselves.
What does this tell us? Shopping for health insurance online is not like shopping for airline tickets. It’s much more complex, and the health insurance industry must continue to evaluate opportunities that help people become more informed and confident shoppers. Access to information is not necessarily the problem; understanding the information is.
What can brokers do to help? Brokers can leverage technology and intuitive platforms that interactively walk consumers through the decision-making process so they can make informed decisions based on certain key factors, such as their age, family status, health history, risk tolerance, etc. By offering technology that helps consumers not just make a choice but also make the best choice for their personal situations, you will add immeasurable value to the process.
2. Put yourself in their shoes
Only 23 percent of consumers who enrolled in a health plan were first-time visitors to a carrier’s website. This underscores the importance consumers place on research and education. However, 43 percent of respondents said they would spend no more than 15 minutes online providing information about themselves.
The key is to make the digital experience as easy as ordering a book online (recognizing that buying health insurance is a more complex decision, of course). Consumer expectations for information availability, ease of use and service have been set by their experiences with online retailers. So, if the technology you offer doesn’t match that experience, they will quickly dismiss it.
3. Recognize that sometimes doctor preferences matter less
Sixty-two percent of consumers who took our survey identified a willingness to switch doctors if the price is right for them. At the same time, recent market developments have focused on offering health plans with narrow networks. As a result, there have been concerns about consumer adoption, identifying those consumers who consider this particular arrangement important and the significance of provider ties within the shopping experience.
Being able to answer questions about doctor availability, providing favorable financial options as a trade-off for moving to another plan and making these decision points transparent are all important.
4. Go mobile, leverage data
Tablet and mobile usage is on the rise. In fact, 51 percent of all smartphone users are likely to obtain a health insurance quote using their phone. Providing the tools necessary to help the consumer research and purchase health insurance using mobile devices will better optimize the overall experience.
Moreover, establishing a robust set of analytics to view and understand the entire consumer journey (whether or not that person is using a mobile device) will result in further advantages for the broker or agent. Why? Because the more you understand about your customer, their preferences and the way they shop for health care, the more you will be able to deliver on their needs over time.
5. Make sure engagement is part of your strategy
Shockingly, only 7 percent of survey respondents considered prescription coverage a key factor in selecting a health plan. This could be a costly mistake in the age of narrow networks and tightening drug formularies. Misunderstandings about the differences between “in-network” and “preferred pharmacy” tiers can also add to the eventual sticker shock of higher copays or co-insurance.
Leveraging drug comparison technology offers consumers a meaningful solution for curbing the costs of prescription medications. These tools go beyond one-for-one generic substitutions. They include therapeutic alternatives, over-the-counter medications with the same level of effectiveness, alternative dosages and drugs that stay in the system longer so they don’t have to be taken every day. And this is more than just identifying cost-savings opportunities.
Drug comparison solutions also help consumers make more informed decisions. For example, many consumers don’t realize prescription costs can differ because they see only their own copay or always go to the same pharmacy. Understanding cost differences can help clients find more affordable alternatives.
Health insurance is already complex and intimidating enough on its own for most people. By creating a customized strategy that leverages the latest in decision-support and mobile technology, data and analytics, and engagement tactics, you’ll help your clients (consumers or employees) find the health benefits that suit them best. It will also help your clients gain greater customer satisfaction that will create loyalty throughout the year — well beyond the point of enrollment. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Jeff Surges is president and CEO of Connecture. Jeff may be contacted at [email protected]