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SCG on assignment: AHIP Institute - Rational health care consumers

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Before the official start to AHIP Institute 2014, the association held three different forums on various hot topics affecting health plans. I’m such a marketing, advertising and culture geek that there as no way I could skip the Consumer Experience Forum: Health Insurance Goes Retail.

The forum was kicked off and MCed by Kevin Riley, a former innovation guy out of the Florida Blues who started his own consulting company to help innovate insurance products. I’ll admit, his enthusiasm is infectious and it was a great start to the forum. He started the session with defining a few terms, ensuring participants knew that retail is the point of sale while consumerism is influencing decisions and behavior for a purchaser that you hope becomes a long-term customer. “When it comes down to a consumer decision, great experience usually wins.”

The first session of the forum focused on perceptions in the market place of health insurance and what drives decisions. Jennifer Haid, vice president of consumer strategy at Iconoculture, Inc. shared some great data: 

  • Most health care consumers agree that they are responsible for their decisions. People have free will and can easily access information about how to live a healthier life.

  • Turn that to accountability and “there is almost a violent reaction.” People are very resistant to personal accountability for their health status. The top two reasons were privacy considerations (“my health is none of your business”) and the belief that they can’t control certain illness, disease or accidents (“is it my fault that I fell off my roof and broke my leg?”).

  • There is an understanding that for certain lifestyles, it is reasonable that fees should be assessed such as a smoking penalty or other lifestyle choice fees. However, who it should be paid to is a different matter. Employers topped the list, followed by the government (taxes) but least by transportation companies like Southwest encouraging obese flyers to buy two seats.

Ms. Haid then talked about the sophistication of health care consumers with the spectrum having low health care pulse at 25% of the population; high pulse at 25% and the middle making up the majority. The top driver for health care sophistication and pulse was involvement in financial services. And it makes sense when you think about the drivers. People who invest and use financial services are comfortable with delayed gratification – which is what living a healthy lifestyle is – a reasonable gamble on improved health outcomes later in life. But like the stock market, that isn’t guaranteed.

Later during the Q&A, Ms. Haid was asked what the top barriers were for making informed decisions on health care. She observed that it was simply hubris. “75% of Americans believe that they are in good or excellent health. You have got to be kidding me.” The other barrier she observed as pleasure – healthy choices take away pleasure for people. Be it a cigarette, binge watching their favorite TV shows or two pots of coffee a day. 

Debora Richmond formerly at Harris Interactive now Neilsen noted that their studies found that the drivers in insurance purchase decisions have historically been pretty static. That may change with the exchanges and new consumers of health care. But it remains a cost driven market with low premiums topping the list followed by keeping the same doctor. For diabetics, keeping their doctor becomes the top driver. They also have studied where the decision point is monetarily for choosing narrow networks or closed network options. It seems to be around a $200 premium increase where consumers will chose a product with fewer choices.

Overall the data is showing that health insurance purchases are rational (this is not when a person is ill and becomes a patient of course). But this information is super helpful to understand patient compliance.

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