Health reform requires marketers to rethink their approach

As health plans prepare for a surge in newly eligible individual consumers of their products, they're also refining their marketing message to greet an entirely different kind of audience.

"From a business perspective, we have a much larger market to now go after," Jamie Peck, managing partner for Rosetta's healthcare vertical, told DMNews. "The downside is that people are usually uninsured because of their economic situation, so we are going to have to be sympathetic and targeted about how we message these consumers."

To communicate with these insureds effectively, plans will have to present customer-friendly information that is easy for the lay person to understand, says Doug Biehn, VP of corporate marketing at Blue Shield of California.

However, with so many more people to cover, health plan budgets may be tight. To stretch marketing dollars further, insurers may increase their use of social media. Online channels will be particularly important in educating consumers about preventative healthcare benefits, said David Scott, president of David Scott Healthcare Marketing. "That is where consumers are going to get information," he said.

Marketers will also have to earn the public's trust that they represent legitimate businesses, as scam artists have already hit the pavement to prey on first-time insurance buyers. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has warned state officials about the proliferation of phony insurance peddlers spreading false information about a limited open-enrollment period to buy insurance now. Providing verifiable information about health reform will help insurers reach out to potential customers and increase their credibility.

Another proactive way to engage consumers in the wake of health reform is to help them understand how their insurance and out-of-pocket dollars are spent. UnitedHealthcare recently launched an improved version of its Treatment Cost Estimator application. The new feature provides physician-specific pricing in more than 400 markets, and information on 116 diseases, 90 surgeries and procedures, and more than 500 individual services. It also incorporates UnitedHealthcare customers' specific health plan information to estimate what the patient will be responsible for paying, reports InformationWeek. The insurer has also added the ability for patients to pay their medical bills online.

"As we move into a new environment defined through the reform legislation, people will be even more heavily engaged in making decisions about who the carrier is, and to the extent that we can make the experience a more positive one by sharing information to help them make better decisions, we think that works for everybody," Meredith Baratz, VP of market solutions for UnitedHealthcare's product and innovation group, said about the enhancements.

To learn more:
- read this DMNews article
- read this Associated Press article
- read this New York Times blog post
- read this InformationWeek article