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Consumers recognize value in regional insurance brands


Equity of healthcare brands is on the rise, and smaller health insurers are making strides.

NATIONAL REPORTS-Consumers gravitate toward brand names. The 2011 Harris Interactive Poll EquiTrend study found that equity of healthcare brands is on the rise, and smaller health insurers are making strides.

Nationally, Blue Cross Blue Shield hung on as the brand of the year, according to the Harris poll. But the second- and third-ranked health insurance companies-California-based Health Net Inc., and Maryland-based Coventry Health Care-are primarily regional insurers whose brand reputation earned high marks in each of 46 categories, including equity, consumer connection, commitment, brand behavior, brand advocacy and trust.

The key, researchers say, is equity, which "provides an understanding of a brand's overall strength and is determined by a calculation of familiarity, quality and purchase consideration." In other industries consumers are turning to local alternatives over larger brands.

Some networks are geographically based-such as the Silver plan that offers 7,000 physicians and is available in 10 California counties-while others cover specific populations-such as the Salud plan with providers uniquely suited to serve the Hispanic market.

"When the economy started tanking in 2008, that's when this became an obvious solution for many employers to save money on their healthcare premiums," says Health Net spokesman Brad Kieffer. "You get the same quality level of care at a smaller premium price by utilizing doctors within these networks."

Stassi says regional insurers, like Health Net, gain strength in their ability to be nimble and adapt to the changing healthcare environment.

"Healthcare is really delivered and consumed locally," says Stassi. "Being a carrier that is local means you understand the unique needs of the populations you service and you can work with providers to build solutions to meet those needs. "

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