Online marketing heats up, but some insurers go old school

Health insurers are increasingly turning to online marketing opportunities, including social media, to attract new members--and retain existing members by improving member satisfaction. On the other hand, at least two health plans have announced the opening of new retail stores within the last month to drive new sales.

Insurers stretching their online muscles include:

  • Humana Inc. in Louisville, Ky., has signed an agreement allowing Mountain View, Calif.-based eHealth Inc. to distribute Humana's Medicare supplement, Medicare Advantage and Part D (prescription drug) products through eHealth's online Medicare platform. EHealthMedicare will provide premium quotes, side-by-side benefit comparisons and online applications for Humana Medicare products.
  • San Francisco-based Blue Shield of California has launched "Ask & Answer," an interactive social media forum that allows members to ask each other questions and provide feedback on such topics as allergies, dental care, nutrition, women's health and first aid. Last year, Blue Shield launched a pilot program called "Ratings & Reviews" that allows members to publicly rate their health plan. That pilot will be expanded sometime this year.
  • Sacramento, Calif.-based Health Net Federal Services LLC, part of the Government Contracts segment of Health Net Inc. and managed care support contractor for the TRICARE North Region, has created a Facebook page to provide a more immediate connection to military service members and their families. Health Net Federal services will use the page to highlight TRICARE news, benefit changes and healthy living tips.

Insurers taking the face-to-face approach include:

  • WellCare Health Plans Inc. in Tampa, Fla., has opened its second "Welcome Room" in Kissimmee, Fla. The health insurer describes its Welcome Rooms as "a neighborhood healthcare information, education and sales center that serves as a community-based resource by offering one-on-one assistance to individuals eligible for government-sponsored healthcare programs." The centers include private meeting space and kitchens for serving snacks.
  • Pittsburgh-based Highmark Inc. plans to open four new Pennsylvania Highmark Direct retail health insurance stores this year: three in Pittsburgh and one in Harrisburg. Highmark opened its first two Highmark Direct stores in March 2009. The original stores had more than 20,000 visitors in the first year of operation.

Are insurers that count on face-to-face interaction to grow their business dinosaurs? Or do storefronts still have a place in our Internet-centric world? How can insurers determine the right marketing mix to keep their businesses thriving? Finding that balance could make the difference between a solid financial future and potential peril. - Caralyn