Interview: Insurers embracing retail to attract seniors

The senior healthcare market is about to burst and insurance companies are well aware of the impending boom. But while most payers are busy buying small Medicare-based insurers to better compete in the Medicare market, one Medicare Advantage plan is taking a more old-fashioned approach by enahncing its personal customer service to attract customers.

Inter Valley Health Plan, based in Pomona, Calif., lost market share in 2008 and consequently realigned its strategies by opening retail stores in its major markets to further brand its products, reach its target consumers, and provide them a local, personal experience. Since 2009, Inter Valley has opened six retail stores, five of which are in strip malls and one is in a major medical building. As of December 2010, the company has realized a 20 percent growth and disenrollment dropped to just below 4 percent--much lower than the industry average.

To learn more about Inter Valley Health Plan's retail store strategy and success, FierceHealthPayer talked with Cyndie O'Brien (pictured), vice president sales/marketing and communications at the insurance company.

FierceHealthPayer: What led Inter Valley to open retail stores?

Cyndie O'Brien: Inter Valley Health Plan is a regional plan with limited advertising budget. The service area is such that traditional media like television is not cost effective. Inter Valley's objective was to reach the senior population outside the traditional paid advertisement channels. The health plan was looking to increase community awareness and our footprint in the communities where our membership was already robust and members could benefit from our office.

FHP: What are the goals Inter Valley hopes to achieve with its stores?

O'Brien: Inter Valley Health Plan's strategy behind opening Medicare Information and Vitality Centers was to build community presence and name recognition, increase enrollment, and retain existing members in the communities where we already had membership.

FHP: What type of services does Inter Valley provide in its stores?

O'Brien: At our centers, we offer membership services for our existing members. Members can meet on-on-one with a Member Service representative. We offer "no pressure" consultation explaining Medicare and how it works. Our staff is trained to understand all the facts of Medicare and we provide a Medicare 101 class quarterly in the offices by a community educator and not a Sales person. We hold enrollment meetings for people interested in Inter Valley Health Plan and we offer health education and lifestyle classes including Facebook 101 and basic computer.

FHP: Can you provide an example of the type of membership services you offer?

O'Brien: We service them in Member Services as we do in our corporate office. From handling a doctor change, to tracking down a referral to working on a claim, whatever the member needs. We have all the tools at each site as we do in our corporate office.

FHP: Why did Inter Valley decide to offer such non-health-related topics to store customers? Have customers taken advantage of those classes?

O'Brien: Inter Valley Health Plan believes that vitality is more than absence of disease; vitality means having a healthy mind, body, and spirit. By offering lifestyle classes, it provides for improving seniors' minds, bodies, and spirits. We have had thousands of people attend our programs at our centers as well as other locations that we use to host these programs.

FHP: How many consumers have used the stores since their opening?

O'Brien: In the last year, with five offices open, we have had approximately 10,500 seniors come through our offices. These individuals include both members and non-members.

FHP: What kind of results can Inter Valley attribute to these stores; for example, has enrollment increased, costs dropped?

O'Brien: The health plan has experienced 15 percent to 17 percent annual enrollment growth in the last three years, and our voluntary disenrollment is below 5 percent. Our community presence and name awareness has seen a slight increase where the centers are located.

- Dina (@HealthPayer)