Help! Health Plans Need Better Branding

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Health plans have some work to do, and quickly.

Despite the uncertainty that continues to surround health reform implementation, many health plans are working to prepare for the grand opening of insurance exchanges in October.

This past Monday’s Wall Street Journal (July 15, 2013) had a piece entitled Insurers Take Obamacare for a Spin and cited examples of market research being conducted on simulated exchanges to gauge decision-making on potential options.

The good news is that efforts are being made to understand consumer behavior, but there is bad news too. Most of the selections made were heavily skewed to price considerations, with far less regard to network breadth, benefit details, and confidence in the insurance plan.

This suggests that there’s a need for some smart marketing to help get the population better prepared for making their choices.

Many respondents in the research said it was hard to compare options and they made their selections in an average of just nine minutes, with few looking at the benefit details.

With an estimated seven million Americans getting set to hit the exchanges on October 1and 25 million expected to follow at some point thereafter, health plans will need to do more to educate and prepare individuals to make informed choices.

One of the lowlights of one of the study results shown here is that only 5% said they made their selection based on the brand of the insurance company. Contrast that to buying behavior in nearly any other consumer category, and it is truly abysmal. Consumers buy brands, and health plans will need to be more brand-oriented to succeed in an increasingly consumer-centric healthcare market.

Here’s where we see some of the key tenets of Healthcare Consumerism needing to come into play. The industry cannot expect to get good results by driving new customers into an exchange environment with limited information and expect to have successful outcomes.

Health plans have a real opportunity to differentiate their offerings, deepen consumer healthcare decision-making knowledge, and raise their public profile.

In this new market environment, strong brand positioning and a positive image can help win the day. Health plans need to be able to tell their story with clarity and creativity to convince consumers to choose them, and then help them select the plan option that is right for them.

This is a golden opportunity for plans to begin to build a relationship with their customers by effectively engaging them in the process. It’s encouraging to see this amount of consumer research being conducted, and we can only hope for more informed choices as Opening Day approaches.