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AHIP tackles age rating, premium tax and other issues with new media

Amid the public debate about the affordability of healthcare and insurance, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) is using new media tools like infographics to explain regulatory and market issues, hoping to reach news savvy consumers inside and outside the Washington Beltway.

In an outreach campaign called "Time for Affordability," with YouTube videos, iPad apps and Twitter-promoted infographics, the health insurance trade group is trying to explain the factors behind rising healthcare costs and the possible unintended consequences of certain health reform provisions, especially when a lot of attention is focused on the high costs of premiums.

Infographics have proliferated recently in the news media, marketing and public relations, and AHIP has taken to the medium as a way to frame complex policy and economic issues, like the ACA's net premium tax, age rating restrictions and minimum health benefit requirements, as well as provider consolidation.

Currently, 42 states have age rating band ratios at or greater than 5:1, limiting premiums for elderly to no more than five times the premiums charged for young people. AHIP's age rating infographic shows a hypothetical consequence from the ACA's 3:1 age rating restriction, with an average of 24-year-old and an average 60-year-old. The 20-something with average annual premiums of $1,200 currently could be paying $1,700 in annual premiums in 2014 with the new age-rating regulations, while the 60-year-old sees a premium reduction.

With a rough illustration of stick figures, timelines and percentage increases, the infographic says: "If the younger individual's premium becomes unaffordable, they will choose not to purchase coverage. If young healthy people drop health insurance coverage, premiums rise for everyone."

Another infographic explains the ACA's health plan net premium tax, compared to the pharmaceutical and medical device taxes, and how it could lead to people being "required to purchase health insurance that is more comprehensive and more expensive than they have now."

AHIP has also created an iPad app, called U.S. Healthcare Spending 101, giving lobbyists, policy researchers and engaged consumers an array of historical and projected healthcare spending trends and their primary drivers, with hospital and physician services accounting for a combined 50 percent of costs in 2010, according to AHIP's analysis.

So how effective are these new media initiatives?

AHIP communications VP Robert Zirkelbach said the group's infographics, which are produced in-house, have reached a fairly wide audience, via newspapers, blogs such as the Washington Post's Wonk Blog, and Twitter.

Even if a media outlet doesn't publish the industry group's graphics, they can help reporters understand the issues, he said.

"It seems it's something that people respond to," Zirkelbach said of the infographics. "Some of these issues can be complicated." They're also geared toward mobile phone and tablet use. The iPad spending data app is likely something legislative staffers and lobbyists may find useful.

Other healthcare and insurance organizations are creating infographics for the broad public. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan created one explaining the not-for-profit insurer's transition into a mutual company, and the company's spokesperson, Andy Hetzel, has maintained an ongoing Twitter conversation with the media, activists and the public at large as the mutualization legislation makes its way into law.

"Our industry tends to be on the cutting edge of using new technologies to get the message out," Zirkelbach said. "How are people getting their news, and how do we best engage them?"

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