Consumers use Twitter to reach out to insurers

Many consumers can't get through to insurers due to long customer service wait times, so they're turning to social media--Twitter in particular--to express their complaints and criticisms. And insurers are listening, often responding directly to consumers with ways to immediately rectify the problems.

Anthem Blue Cross in California is experiencing the brunt of many tweets after it canceled individual plans and switched hundreds of its members into new plans and withdrew premiums from their bank accounts without their knowledge. In several situations, Anthem spokesperson Darrel Ng tweeted individually to people who complained about the withdrawals, asking for their contact information so he could resolve the problem, ProPublica reported.

Ng told ProPublica that consumers now are interacting with companies, including Anthem, beyond the traditional phone call. "In response to this new demand, we created our customer service Twitter account @AskAnthem several years ago to assist members," he said. "As consumers themselves started proactively contacting our other Twitter accounts, we started directing these inquiries to customer service for assistance."

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan also has fielded some unhappy tweets from consumers, including one who called the insurer "by far the worst company ever run. EVER" and said he was put on hold every day. Blue Cross responded by tweeting: "We're sorry to hear your frustration & would like to help. Could you pls email your question to us at members[email protected]?"

Aetna spokesperson Matt Wiggin said the insurer recognizes people are using other methods to communicate. "There have been some instances where call volumes have been heavy and if people have not been able to get through or been able to get the information we need, they've either reached out to us through social media or other means available," he told ProPublica.

California HealthCare Foundation has been tracking Twitter comments related to the reform law and its recent report found less conversation about the law between December 2013 and Jan. 15, 2014, compared to several months ago when launched with glitches and enrollment errors.

Recognizing consumers take more frequently to Twitter, insurers Aetna and Cigna have been maintaining a strong social media presence to manage their brand while taking quick action to remedy any complaints aired publicly, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the ProPublica article
- check out the CHCF report