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The Consumerization of Healthcare: Survival of the Best Communicator

This three-part series will explore the Affordable Care Act (ACA), how it affects the way Americans approach their healthcare, and how business and government are answering the call with communications and digital tools.

The ACA and the rise of the consumer brand

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) changes everything for health plans. In the past, most people got their health insurance through employers, and plans marketed to these employers. With the mandate requiring people to have healthcare and the exchanges, it’s a new game. Now they’re going directly to consumers. What insurers call the “individual market” is more important than ever. Enter the consumer-focused brand.

Instead of individuals being given no choice or a short list of choices by an employer, these new “consumers” are able to compare all their options. While they’ll base their decisions on cost and features, brand will be increasingly important.

Source: Harris Interactive Poll, June 20, 2013

Enter the sophisticated healthcare consumer

Individuals are more empowered than ever when it comes to healthcare. People are now comparing doctors online, researching their treatment options, challenging their doctors, and watching their dollars more carefully through their Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). But when it comes to the ACA and what it means to them…

Most Americans still don’t get it. We know it’s out there, we know it’s coming, and we know it will affect us.

How much of an effect do you think health care reform will have on your life?

Source: Princeton Survey Research Associates International, April 4, 2013

Even though we know the ACA will affect us, most of us are pretty foggy on what it really means.

How well do you understand how the health care law might affect you and your family?

Source: Pew Research & USA Today, 2013

Key Provisions of the Law

Source: Pew Research & USA Today, 2013

So just what does this mean to health plans?

Health plans and other healthcare providers need to prepare for the expansion of the individual market by creating meaningful tools for individuals to purchase plans, manage costs, and select providers. They also need to make a human connection. In an industry where the health plans have historically been seen as the “deniers” of care, they now need to make an effort to be seen as a trusted source of information who are on the side of the consumer.

Healthcare companies who can clearly explain the changes, empower individuals with useful knowledge, and communicate their value using plain language and engaging tactics, will win. It’s survival of the best communicator.

As Dr. Elliott S. Fisher, the director of the Center for Population Health at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice puts it, “Their future is going to depend on their ability to demonstrate value to patients and to employers” (NY Times, June 2013).

Who’s answering the call?

Insurers are spending more on brand, marketing and consumer-focused communications than ever before. Some of the largest insurance companies in the country are re-branding and launching major campaigns in an attempt to be seen as the champion of consumers.

  • Aetna refreshed its logo and brand with bright colors to continue “its evolution from an insurance carrier to a health solutions company.” “More and more, the end consumer is who we need to focus on,” said Belinda Lang, the head of brand and consumer marketing at Aetna (NY Times, June 2013).
Colorful image of Aetna logo

Aetna's refreshed brand logo

  • Cigna launched the bold “Go You” campaign (bright colors does seem to be a theme here), where they reach out to consumers directly for the first time. “It is a shift, it’s an important shift,” said Maggie FitzPatrick, the chief communications officer at Cigna (NY Times, June 2013).

Cigna's branding includes "Facestrument", which is available on their Facebook page.

  • Many are also doing videos that champion the consumer, such as BlueCross of MA.
  • Finally, plans are introducing new digital tools, such as shopping comparison sites, loyalty or reward programs for healthy behavior, and out-of-pocket comparison tools. Keep an eye out for our next post where we take a look at these tools in detail.

Game on

With 29 million people expected to purchase their healthcare through the exchanges by 2019, the stakes are enormous. We’ll be keeping our eye on this game!

Categories: Digital Marketing
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