J.D. Power study: Consumers expect more effective communication from their health plans

Health plans have a member communication problem—and it’s becoming especially apparent due to COVID-19, according to a new study.

J.D. Power has released its 2020 analysis of consumer attitudes toward commercial health plans and found that 60% of private plan members say they were never contacted by their insurer with information related to the virus.

In addition, 48% said they feel their insurer has not shown concern for their health since the pandemic reached U.S. shores.  

James Beem, managing director of global healthcare intelligence at J.D. Power, told FierceHealthcare that this gap between member expectations and how health plans view their role in the system has been a longtime concern. 

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Consumers want a coordinated, integrated experience that their health plan may be unwilling or unable to provide, he said.

“Health plan members have an expectation that health insurance companies do that, but I’m not certain whether or not health insurance companies feel that’s part of their major role, so there’s a disconnect there,” Beem said.

One of the largest missed opportunities for communication is around telehealth, according to the survey. Just 9% of plan members said they have used telehealth before, while 48% said they would consider doing so if it was covered by their health plan.

Additional research from J.D. Power that was conducted between March 15 and May 1 found that 75% of consumers are aware of telehealth, but 54% don’t understand if their insurer covers such benefits.

Beem said this disconnect is emblematic of the broader communication issues between health plans and members.

“This really seeps back into the master factor of health insurance companies are not appropriately engaging or communicating with health insureds,” he said.

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Another area for communication improvement is around value, Beem said. Cost pressures are, perhaps unsurprisingly, the central factor in how members perceive their plans—and members largely struggle to see the value in their investment.

Beem said that there are no other industries in which customers pay out thousands per year for a product they don’t see much value in. Plus, he added, commercial plan members aren’t choosing their insurance carrier the way they would choose a provider.

A consumer who is unsatisfied with their health plan can’t simply fire their carrier to make a statement, he said.

“Going into that relationship, [health plans] have a huge hurdle to overcome, which is that the consumer hasn’t necessarily picked them as a partner in their healthcare,” he said.