Exchanges: 5 Steps For Health Plans To Succeed In 2014 And Beyond

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) train has left the station – leaving health plans racing to overcome challenges ranging from B2C outreach to mandates and penalties.

In preparation for enrollment, health plans have segmented target prospects, listed products on public and private exchanges, and worked with exchanges to integrate systems and define new processes. 

IT glitches aside, the significant changes created by exchanges, and consumers’ uncertainty about the need to purchase health insurance, make predicting enrollment rates difficult.

While awareness of the law has increased, comprehension still remains low. A recent USA Today/Pew Research Center Poll found that among the uninsured, almost 40% do not realize that the new law requires them to buy health insurance. And a health tracking poll conducted in September by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News revealed that 69% of consumers surveyed felt that they either don’t understand the ACA well or they understand only “some” of it. 



So engagement will be a key factor in the successful implementation of the law.  Here are five marketing imperatives health plans can take today to increase engagement and achieve success in 2014 and beyond.

1. Forge strategic partnerships. 

To be successful, health insurers should partner with like-minded and sometimes non-traditional organizations including hospitals, health centers, pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies, and community or faith-based organizations. For example, Walgreens and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois have partnered to educate customers about healthcare reform and exchanges. 

The Obama administration has teamed up with NASCAR, and Enroll America is even working with moms of the uninsured.

Of course, traditional marketing outreach methods will be important to get the word out to the uninsured (in fact, over $1 billion dollars will go to traditional advertising), but these partnerships may prove to be particularly persuasive.

2. Think multiculturally.  

Wellpoint and six other Blues plans have signed unique partnership arrangements with Univision to beef up their marketing outreach to the Latino population, which comprises 17% of the U.S. population, and 32% of the uninsured population. 

Latinos also have a higher percentage of “young healthies,” making this demographic increasingly important to the success of health insurers.  Beefing up your multicultural chops is now a mandatory for any insurer that wants to win in this new environment. 

3. Evolve your sales strategy.  

A successful health plan will leverage the power of its sales channels, particularly the broker channel. 

Many states allow brokers to receive compensation from health insurers for bringing individual buyers to state exchanges. However, some brokers were unclear what their role and broker commissions would be when health exchanges were launched. 

This presents an opportunity for health insurers to be part of the solution by providing brokers with tools to help them do their job. Front line support from brokers will be crucial in getting these targeted consumers to use exchanges.

4. Empathize.  

Everyone wants health insurance, but many don't know how to get it. To establish an emotional connection with the target, health plans must convince prospects they understand what they’re going through and they’re ready and willing to help. 

And health plans must remember they are selling to individuals who have varied situations. Some have low education or literacy levels.  Others have experienced a painful job loss.  Messaging that illustrates health plans “feel their pain” will be important.  Mediums like TV, video and radio do a great job of conveying empathy.

5. Learn from the past.  

Exchanges in Massachusetts and Utah can provide marketing best practices. In Massachusetts, roughly 97% of residents are now insured, with over 250,000 of the 400,000 newly covered buying their health insurance from the Health Connector. 

Health insurers in Massachusetts learned that the switch to a retail model would happen gradually, and consumers had high expectations about their buying experience. Health plans also realized the importance of investing in their brand name, particularly in an environment where prospects are making buying decisions looking primarily at a list of benefits, a price tag and a corporate logo.  

Despite all of the work that has been done to prepare for the ACA, the journey has just begun. Winning in this new environment may be as much about what you do now as what you’ve done in the last few years.

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