Payers see consumerism and data analytics as top priorities in 2019. Most aren't prepared to deliver

Health insurance benefits form
Payers will have to distinguish themselves to be competitive next year. As one partner at North Highland said, "taking an aggressive strategy is key right now." (Getty/michaelquirk)

More than 80% of large payers say customer experience, data and analytics, and organic growth are their top priorities going into 2019, according to a new survey from global consulting firm North Highland.

But many also recognize that following through on those priorities may be a heavier lift. 

Nearly 50% of respondents from 100 payers categorized "consumer centricity/experience" as a "very high" priority compared to 21% last year.  But just 29% say consumerism is "very attainable" (though 57% say it is somewhat attainable), and 14% say they are "very prepared."

Nearly 40% say data analytics are "very attainable" and just 17% said they are "very prepared."

Both of those focus areas—building on the customer experience and investing in data analytics—are costly. But the potential return on investment is high, as they can offer a company a competitive edge. Forty-three percent said consumer centricity would give their company a "definite" competitive edge, while 44% said the same for analytics. 

Growth, meanwhile, may be “low-hanging fruit” due to low perceived cost. 

Value-based care initiatives make focusing on consumers more important than ever, according to Roman Fry, a healthcare principal with North Highland.

Disaffected, many consumers make healthcare decisions based on what’s most readily available, rather than what could provide them with the highest quality products and services. But providing consumers what they truly want—such as behavioral health coverage, social services, and lower costs—“can be key” in turning that situation around, Fry said.

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Customers also form their opinions about payers based on their experiences with call center representatives, who constitute the greatest percentage of payer employees. Payers are increasingly training their call center representatives to function as care concierges, too.

This can be good for consumers since they receive more direct answers to their questions to solve their problems faster. But payers “constantly struggle with the supply and demand issue,” Fry said. In fact, he said, many of these employees are seasonal since companies hire more during open enrollment season.

Another recent trend is reflected in the top two priorities taken together. Payers have been beefing up their analytics capabilities to target services to members, as well as partnering with digital health companies to offer consumers additional benefits.

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Fry noted the upswing in mergers and acquisitions in healthcare reflects companies’ desire to get their hands on more consumer data as well.

In 2019 and beyond, companies will need to be proactive in developing innovative solutions and distinguishing themselves, Fry said. Currently, “the healthcare blue bloods … [often] sit back and read and react,” but they may be “late to the game if they take that approach.”

“Taking an aggressive strategy is key right now—maybe being the first mover instead of the third,” he said.

The survey included responses from 100 executives, board members, and other high-level management officials who represented companies with revenue of $1 billion or more. 91 operate in the United States, and nine operate in the United Kingdom. 38 companies earned between $1 billion and $5 billion, 28 earned between $5 billion and $10 billion, and 34 earned more than $10 billion.