Independence Blue Cross educates consumers with retail on wheels

The health insurance exchanges bring new consumers to the market, some of whom have never shopped for coverage before. Many insurers recognize that reaching these new consumers requires creative marketing efforts. That's why Independence Blue Cross outfitted a truck, dubbed the Independence Express, to bring its education and enrollment activities all over the Philadelphia community. In the 53 days since the online marketplaces opened, IBC has taken the Independence Express to 50 events.

To learn more about Independence Blue Cross's outreach efforts during open enrollment, including how it's leveraging technology to engage consumers, FierceHealthPayer spoke with Brian Lobley (pictured left), the insurer's senior vice president of marketing and consumer business.

FierceHealthPayer: Is IBC taking any particularly different outreach steps during the open enrollment period? And what is the main goal you hope to achieve?

Brian Lobley: We are doing things a lot differently. It started earlier this year when we really saw what the shift was going to be like in the consumer marketplace. Early on, we not only decided [individual business] was going to be a priority business segment for us, but we're also going to have a primary responsibility to educate individuals prior to this open enrollment period. So we really looked at it as two phases--prior to Oct. 1 was inform and educate, and post Oct. 1 is educate and enroll.

Our goal is that everyone in our service area has an option to use Independence Blue Cross. For us, it's about making sure no matter whether you're employed by the largest employer here, whether you're uninsured or on federal assistance, Independence Blue Cross will be there for you with an affordable product.

We want to make sure we put up products that are affordable and offer choice. It was never a question of are we going to participate in the exchanges. It was how are we going to participate. The uninsured is a very important segment of the population--we need to be there for them so they have something they can buy.

FHP: The Independence Express, a sort of pop-up store on wheels, seems to feature prominently in IBC's exchange outreach efforts. Can you describe how the Express works and the types of features available on it?

Lobley: Independence Express is our mobile retail site. It's a 50-foot trailer that converts essentially to a store, so pop-up retail. But we've really created an event. We start with off-board experiences before you even step foot in the truck. For example, we've set up a game called the Independence Blue Cross IQ Show, where we set up a computer touch-screen TV and we have three people sit in front of buzzers.

We start the game by asking five questions around healthcare reform and we'll mix in one question around something like how long has Independence Blue Cross been a company. We're having our 75th anniversary later this year, so we've been trumpeting that since we've been in the community for this long, we're here to stay.

And then you enter the truck. There are 14 workstations with six iPads and eight laptops and a small private conference room. We also can take out the workstations and set up a conference room so we can do educational events.

All of our associates on the Independence Express are part of what we call Team Independence. We make them outreach ambassadors and have them go through extensive education programs both on healthcare reform as well as our product design so they are well versed in Independence Blue Cross's position. And we outfit them in "Live Fearless" T-shirts--our tag line out in the marketplace that conveys a sense of you can live your daily life and not have to worry about insurance. You can live fearless with Independence Blue Cross.

FHP: Why did IBC choose to use a mobile truck instead of a retail store?

Lobley: Our strategy is different from other payers that created the retail store. We feel the retail store on wheels lets us be in multiple locations a day. We're not left to choose one specific high-traffic mall or other retail site. We bring the retail to you. 

We've created this engagement strategy that's not around creating Independent Blue Cross insurance events; it's about going to events where people already are and create a real comfortable environment where they can come on board the Independence Express and learn more about insurance.

FHP: How does the Independence Express enable IBC to use technology to engage consumers and help educate them about exchanges?

Lobley: We designed an iPad game called the Independent Blue Cross Wheel of Life that allows people to experience health insurance. One of the dilemmas we have in this industry is you can't taste our product like a soft drink. So we designed this game where we allow people to really simulate their out-of-pocket experience, such as how much it costs for an emergency room visit. The game leads to really great conversations around products and services that ultimately fit consumers' different income level, age, family status, etc.

We've also been able to layer in and estimate subsidies. We say out of pocket costs minus monthly premiums minus subsidies means you save X amount of dollars. So it's making it real for folks. And then our various licensed agents onboard the Independence Express can take the conversations and make them very real by looking at the product designs we offer [on the exchange].

FHP: What are the most common questions and/or concerns IBC employees on the Independence Express hear from consumers?

Lobley: The most common thing we're hearing is most people think there's only one plan offering. So they come onboard the Express and say something like, 'Now that Obamacare has gone live, I'd like to sign up for it.' The reality is, just for us, we have 13 product designs [available on the exchange] that vary on premium costs. So there's been awareness that the Affordable Care Act was passed, but there hasn't been much awareness that people still have to go shopping.

When we're in the lower income areas, we get a lot of questions around not having insurance before. So we educate folks about which product is best for them and then how to use it. Probably eight or nine times out of 10, we're taking people through our website IBXforyou.com so they can see plans and compare options. We have a subsidy calculator on our website, so we're also able to estimate the particular individuals' federal subsidy.

We are seeing a lot of browsing, consumers wanting to know what their options are and taking information back with them. So we're scheduling a lot of callbacks after folks have all the information and we'll have an agent call them back whenever it's convenient for the consumers.

FHP: What are your long-term goals for the Independence Express? Do you plan to use it beyond the open enrollment period?

Lobley: Yes, absolutely. This business doesn't end just because people are enrolled. So we'll go into education and wellness activities with the Independence Express. It's also not just for our consumers. We do a lot of community engagement events to help people know how to use their healthcare better during the year.

One really effective partnership we've developed is with a bunch of our local hospitals where we go in and help educate how to use our products and, for example, when to use the emergency room versus the primary care doctor. We really feel like this vehicle and this pop-up retail experience can be a 365-day event.

FHP: How has the public responded to the Independence Express? Do you think it's having a positive impact on IBC enrollment?

Lobley: It's been unbelievable. As an example, we had an event organized by two state legislatures and had an hour wait for people to get onboard the Independence Express. They were creating the demand of something like the new iPhone release. The first day we were at a health clinic and we were averaging about 20 people per hour coming on board.

The web traffic for our shopping site, which we launched the same day the federal exchange launched, IBXforyou.com, has averaged five times per day the normal traffic we saw prior to Oct. 1. Our call volume has tripled what we normally see in our telesales center. So I certainly think the demand is there and the interest is there. It has, quite frankly, exceeded our expectations. 

- Dina (@HealthPayer)

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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