Brand power: Health plans flex brand muscle to educate members

April 1, 2007

Twenty years ago, health insurance was marketed on a wholesale basis. Over the past five years-as managed care turned mainstream-different product designs have surfaced and become more retail oriented.

Twenty years ago, health insurance was marketed on a wholesale basis. Over the past five years-as managed care turned mainstream-different product designs have surfaced and become more retail oriented.

"While health plans still need to market wholesale to employers, they are more intensely focused on marketing retail to individual employees and individual consumers, such as Medicare beneficiaries," explains Peter R. Kongstvedt, MD, FACP, and a senior executive in Accenture's Health & Life Sciences practice.

Successful marketing and sales strategies vary greatly depending on market attributes, Dr. Kongstvedt points out. "Strategies for health plans that are successful in selling to large national accounts will be substantially different than those focused on the small group market, and differ as well from strategies used in individual sales," he says.

COMMONWEALTH CONNECTOR

Although its marketing and advertising strategy is still taking shape, newcomer Commonwealth Connector-an independent state authority established in the spring of 2006 to implement pieces of Massachusetts' landmark Health Care Reform Law-is taking a proactive approach to the adage "If we build it they will come."

Commonwealth Connector, in Boston, assists qualified Massachusetts adult residents with the purchase of affordable healthcare coverage if they don't already have it.

"We are currently conducting market research to understand our target audience, the uninsured and small businesses under 50 employees," says Joan Fallon, chief communications officer for Commonwealth Connector, State of Massachusetts. "We are interested in a host of information, including how our target audience receives information, to determine best approaches. A significant portion of our uninsured population is young, healthy individuals. We hope to create a loyal customer base by serving as a trusted advisor, offering excellent customer service, ease of decision making and portability."

The Massachusetts' law established two insurance programs, a state-subsidized program called Commonwealth Care and a commercial program called Commonwealth Choice.

Commonwealth Care offers subsidized insurance to people whose annual incomes are 300% of the Federal Poverty Level and below (that's $29,412 for an individual and $60,012 for a family of four). Those at 100% of the FPL pay no premiums. Cost for those between 100% and 300% of FPL is graded based on income.

"The vast majority of the people eligible for Commonwealth Care are known to us through what is called the Uncompensated Care Pool, so outreach to them was very direct, and we had the support of the advocacy community through a series of state grants for outreach efforts," Fallon says. As of February 1, 2007, 51,000 new members are enrolled in Commonwealth Care.

Commonwealth Choice, which will provide commercial health products to uninsured individuals and small businesses, will launch on May 1, along with the advertising campaign to match the availability of plans. It will offer individual choice with tiers of health insurance plans from various carriers and different plan designs. A young adult plan also will be offered.

"We plan to stress the benefits of having health insurance and educate citizens about the availability of plans through the Commonwealth Choice program," Fallon says. "The ultimate test of the success of our marketing and advertising will be enrollment."