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Insurers rebrand, draw consumers to HIX

Health insurers have reached out to consumers in a blitz of in-person, online and networked information and events so those who need coverage or want to change their current individual coverage will know how to connect with and be comfortable with the health insurance exchanges.
The outreach may not be just a short-term strategy, however, but part of a re-branding by payers, such as Aetna, Cigna and Humana, to a more business-to-consumer focus instead of just business-to-employers, said Adam Powell, president of consultant Payer+Provider Syndicate.
"There's been a move from business-to-consumer for a while, but it has been accelerated by the Affordable Care Act and the exchanges," he said. "After all this hard work, we'll see some results as the exchanges open in October." Open enrollment on the exchanges lasts from October to March 2014.
Payers often partner with a community organization that has a foothold in the region to help explain health insurance and exchange options. For example, Humana has partnered with the YMCA to sponsor free public events, such as health and wellness community fairs and health reform educational sessions led by the insurer's representatives, at Y facilities in states where Humana will participate in the exchanges. "The YMCA, known for strengthening communities across the country, is a highly trusted organization," said Roy Beveridge, MD, Humana's chief medical officer, in a news release.
Smaller, regional insurers also are taking their message to where the people are. Medica, a payer serving the upper Midwest, rolled out its public information campaign at the Minnesota State Fair in August where they staffed a booth to answer questions about individuals' health insurance situations.
Whether they are large or small, much of insurers' outreach and engagement with consumers comes via their websites, with easy to use interactive modules with which to find information about their specific situations. Many have started using social media channels on Facebook and Twitter, and with videos on their website and YouTube. They also continue with toll-free call centers.
Insurers have created a variety of channels for consumers because they "have different levels of interest and understanding of healthcare reform," said Rob Longendyke, Medica senior vice president of marketing and communications, in a news release. "The objective is to help people cut through the clutter and learn about how healthcare reform will affect them and what options and choices they will have to consider."
The effectiveness of payers to attract consumers is not just a matter of marketing. "It's also product design and pricing, as well as marketing that determine what the people will get," Powell said.
Payers have to figure whether it will be financially profitable for them to invest and sell insurance on those exchanges, Powell said. As a result, even some of the biggest payers, like Aetna, have limited the number of state-based exchanges in which they will offer plans.
"There's a lot of uncertainty. What are the attributes of the people who are going to be in the exchanges? Are they going to be able to price a product that will make them a profit? They can't underwrite. So they have to have a good idea of what the risk will be," Powell said.
It's too early to determine the effectiveness of the job payers are doing in reaching out to consumers, but they're trying to make their websites more attractive and consumer friendly. One way is tracking web traffic metrics.
Payer+Provider Syndicate assessed insurers' web traffic, the number of inbound links, site relevance and Google PageRank, and combined the numbers into an index: the Payer Web Presence Index. Aetna and Cigna topped the index.
"If you think about what's been happening like with Aetna, Cigna and Humana, they have totally rebranded themselves, given themselves a makeover over the past two years," Powell said. "They've got new logos and cool 2.0-looking fonts. They're now engaging in business-to-consumer marketing, and they have upped their marketing collateral accordingly." 

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