After months of intense public debate, healthcare reform is now the law of the land, meaning millions of US consumers will be required to obtain health insurance by 2014. For health marketers, including insurance firms, pharmaceutical companies and some doctors, the fact that 30 million-plus consumers will need insurance, and therefore more healthcare products and services, is in some ways a boon. However, it will force changes in how they market to consumers.
“From a business perspective, we have a much larger market to now go after,” says Jamie Peck, managing partner for Rosetta’s healthcare vertical. “The downside is that people are usually uninsured because of their economic situation, so we are going to have to be sympathetic and targeted about how we message these consumers.”
Insurance companies will begin to market in a more customer-friendly manner, says Doug Biehn, VP of corporate marketing at Blue Shield of California.
“Healthcare has never really been consumer friendly from a macro standpoint,” he says. “Health insurance plans need to become much more like retail products and be more targeted when they are released in the marketplace.”
Although insurance companies will still be selling complicated plans with diverse options, they’ll be marketing them in easier-to-understand ways as a result of the legislation, Biehn adds.
“We have to make plans that are simpler to choose and easier to understand,” he says. “We can’t offer one size to fit all.”
By 2014, states will be required to set up insurance marketplaces to offer a variety of healthcare plans for small businesses and individuals who do not get coverage from employers. Employers with 50 or more staffers that do not offer coverage will be fined at that time.
The bill, which was passed after nearly a year of congressional and public debate, also seeks to bar insurers from excluding coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.
However, the law won’t necessarily result in booming times for healthcare companies’ marketing budgets. Health insurance companies will be under greater financial pressure, and therefore many will keep their budgets flat or shrink them.
“We need to become very efficient; every dollar counts,” Biehn says. “The paramount issue is affordability.”
Health insurance companies will also emphasize retaining existing customers. David Scott, president of David Scott Healthcare Marketing, expects to see more CRM programs launching online.
“Preventative medicine is encouraged under the new deal, and providers that offer any type of preventative healthcare benefits should take time to educate consumers through online channels,” he says. “That is where consumers are going to get information.”
In modifying their preventative healthcare marketing, healthcare companies will also have to understand their customers better than they have in the past.
“We need to recognize this group to start to understand what motivates them to go seek treatment and to be compliant,” Peck says.
As part of this process, Blue Shield of California will shift more of its marketing online and focus on social media and CRM programs.
“It is going to become much more about word-of-mouth and digital,” says Biehn. “If you think about how consumers make decisions on cars, technology and books, they are turning more toward social media.”
Last year, Blue Shield of California piloted a program that lets consumers rate plans on its site, similar to a user review on Amazon. In this year’s second quarter, the company will roll this program out to all members.
The insurer also has a health education and awareness benefits program that encourages consumers to stay healthy and avoid the need for high-cost health services. The “Wellvolution” program educates consumers on exercise and diets and body mass index. Blue Shield, which also offers healthy lifestyle rewards, plans to expand this program.