UnitedHealth: Insurers should fit into consumers' lives

If insurers want to be successful in a consumer-oriented market, they should make their business fit into their consumers' lives rather than forcing consumers to adjust and accommodate the insurance business, Tom Paul (pictured), chief consumer officer at UnitedHealth, told FierceHealthPayer in part one of a two-part interview based on his presentation at the AHIP Institute in Las Vegas last week.

UnitedHealth has focused on the consumer and the role the consumer plays within healthcare for a long time, and its overall business plan recognizes the "very important relationship" among the consumer, the care provider and the payer. That relationship, Paul said, is driving its overall strategy toward greater health outcomes and affordability.

UnitedHealth has established a "very deliberate approach" of making sure it's "an outside-in organization," ensuring that through its product development and service delivery, the nation's largest insurer is "fitting into the life of the consumer, not making them fit into us," Paul said.  

That's why UnitedHealth is organizing its strength and energy around three key elements that consumers want--simplicity, personalization and care--from their insurance company.

UnitedHealth's own research has determined consumers find the health insurance industry to be complex and complicated, and they want their insurance instead to be simple. "When we say simplify, we mean make [insurance] easy so that members can focus on their health and not the health insurance," Paul explained. "And be really transparent about it, to help them understand what it is they're going through, what they need to do, how to make the right decisions."

So the company is working to simplify their members' experience by using plain language that promotes health literacy and equity. UnitedHealth also is simplifying its member communications based on individual preferences, whether it's through the phone, digital or paper, and providing a continuity and connectivity through each one of those experiences.

Paul likened UnitedHealth's focus on simplification to the retail industry's seamless connectivity between a brick-and-mortar store and an online shopping experience that lets consumers order online and pick up a product in a store.

To increase the personalization it provides members, UnitedHealth is "giving people experiences that's really right for them as individuals," Paul said, adding that "health is a very emotional condition, so consumers want it very personal."

UnitedHealth, therefore, is tailoring its offerings to address particular needs and preferences rather than providing health plans with a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, the insurer is molding some of its health plans based on preferences and lifestyles of young adults, many of whom are coming for the first time into the healthcare space. A younger individual likely wants some preventive services and basic coverage of vision and dental, because as Paul says, "they're a bit fearless and they aren't looking for catastrophic coverage."

To provide the care that consumers want, UnitedHealth is connecting their members to the right resources for them to reach optimum health. "Whether that be financial, clinical, wellness, social support, caregiving resources--consumers tend to lump them all into a category of 'help me get the best resources that I need to achieve my health goals,'" Paul said.   

For example, UnitedHealth is sending care professionals into its members' homes to ensure they obtain the right care. In 2012, UnitedHealth professionals made more than 250,000 home visits to members with multiple chronic illnesses. "By observing the individual within their home setting, we can identify gaps in care that will never be realized in an office setting or over the phone," Paul explained. "And so now we're starting to connect people to the right social services and the right health services that fit them in their environment."

Editor's Note: Look for part two of this interview, where Paul discusses how insurers can learn valuable lessons from the retail industry and how UnitedHealth is expanding its consumer reach through its own retail stores, in the next issue of FierceHealthPayer.