Payers: It might be time to pick up the phone

Many insurers must deal with a backlog of inquiries and concerns from newly enrolled (and unhappy) exchange members. Some companies are finding the personal touch is key to good customer service.

Philadelphia-based Independence Blue Cross, for example, inadvertently amassed a long queue of customer service issues after signing up 283,000 new members, almost three times more than it expected. The insurer is taking an unusual and time-consuming approach--calling members with an unresolved issue to work out the problem and assisting them with their inquiries, reported Kaiser Health News.

"When issues arise, we do everything we can to get to the best resolution possible," Stephan Roker, IBC's senior vice president of service operations, told FierceHealthPayer. "We also have dedicated customer service teams answering emails, letters, faxes, and social media inquires."

Because it underestimated its enrollment numbers, some of IBC's new members couldn't get through to the insurer on the phone, which lead to a 400 percent increase in emails that overwhelmed its website, causing a 550 percent boost in Facebook complaints.

IBC is also trying to head off any future problems by reaching out to its new members, many of whom have never had health insurance. "We have a special team outside of customer service calling new members and inviting them to ask questions about their health plans and their new benefits," Roker said. "Over the next few months we will continue to contact new members through mail and email with information on our online tools and resources, how to use their new medical benefits and prescription coverage, our wellness programs, and other important programs or benefits."

Similarly, Reno, Nevada-based Saint Mary's Health Plans has improved member services policies and infrastructure, leading to happier members despite the state's failing health insurance exchange. The insurer created different documents it would complete for each member and used a tracking mechanism to get the information--such as the names of members they heard from and their concerns--back to the state's marketplace.

"It gave our team something to do when they got an upset caller [so] the caller could feel like somebody has finally has heard them," Lisa Dettling, Saint Mary's director of customer service, told FierceHealthPayer this week.

Using that personal, one-to-one communication helped the insurer sooth member concerns and make the most of a difficult exchange experience.

To learn more:
- read the Kaiser Health News article