Cut the churn: Lessons in member loyalty from Southwest Airlines

Given the challenges health insurers have encountered on the individual exchanges, perhaps the best business model for them would be to emulate a popular airline company, according to Vox.

The Affordable Care Act marketplaces are designed to increase competition and help consumers find the health plans that are best for them, which could change from year to year. Indeed, the Obama administration took pains to encourage consumers to shop around during this past open enrollment period.

But the problem, the article argues, is that degree of plan switching--as well as the many customers who drop and reenroll in coverage overall--make it more difficult and less advantageous for health insurers to help their members get and stay healthy.  

"The fact that people are actually switching seems like a sign that this market is functioning as it was designed. But … all that churn sure makes it hard for an insurer to make money by investing in its customers' long-term health," adds New York Times reporter Margot Sanger-Katz in a discussion posted on the blog The Upshot.

Therefore, a better approach may be for insurers to act like Southwest Airlines--focusing solely on offering low prices, narrow networks and exceptional customer service, according to Vox. At this point, insurers simply may lack the tools and trust necessary to work with members to change behaviors, the article adds.

Even so, payers are increasingly trying to engage members through health improvement initiatives. Some major insurers have partnered with grocery stores to help encourage healthy eating, and UnitedHealth recently debuted a wellness program for employer-based plan enrollees that makes use of a specialized fitness tracker.

To learn more:
- read the Vox article
- here's The Upshot post

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