4 retail strategies for payer success in the consumer-driven marketplace

Best practices from execs at Capital BlueCross, Humana and Highmark

Something as personal as healthcare requires the human touch. And as the industry continues to evolve, certain trends emerge. Brick-and-mortar health insurance stores are becoming more popular and accessible, especially with the shift to a more consumer-focused market.

Many insurers have recognized the need to implement retail strategies to better serve their customers. FierceHealthPayer spoke with three top executives at Capital BlueCross, Humana and Highmark, who shared their tips for best retail consumer practices.

1. Focus on the customer

Several years ago, Louisville-based Humana recognized the importance to meet the needs of their Medicare Advantage customers where they are, Billie Miller, Humana's national leader for the Humana Guidance Centers, told FierceHealthPayer. So after extensive consumer research, the insurer decided to open customer sales and service centers in key Humana markets across the United States, including south Florida, Tampa Bay and Chicago.

Humana's Guidance Centers cater to seniors by offering walking programs, healthy cooking classes and lessons on how to browse the Internet so they can learn more about their health.

2. Get face time

"During open enrollment, everyone was coming in shopping, and liked the fact that they could meet with someone face to face. Buying insurance is scary, and we would literally put them right into the exchange," Dave Skerpon, vice president of strategic growth and community relations at Pennsylvania-based Capital BlueCross, told FierceHealthPayer.

Skerpon added that people have visited the store, and have purchased plans based on the quality of their customer service--for certain individuals, a positive experience will be the deciding factor between one insurer versus another.

Store fronts are more engaging for customers--which may include people already enrolled in a plan, or for those who need more guidance. "People coming into our stores need that extra face- to-face interaction--that trusted adviser," Mike King, director of retail marketing and operations at Pittsburgh-based Highmark, told FiercehealthPayer.

3. Offer perks

In this new consumer-driven healthcare mindset, insurers look at ways to boost engagement, compete on value and consumer-focused offerings and both acquire and retain new members

Capital BlueCross's store, Capital Blue, offers customers programs such as health condition support, on-site guidance to develop a personal wellness plan, seasonal flu shots and daily fitness classes. "There are all kinds of educational tools, if they want to buy insurance, they can buy insurance. If they need wellness tips, we can give them that," said Skerpon.

"The biggest perk of our retail store is that face-to-face interaction. They can sit down with one of our licensed associates and have that consultative interaction. The products are based on the customer's needs. We take our customer experience very seriously. There are a number of other perks--Highmark is local, you can walk into our store and pay your bill," noted King.

4. Look ahead

After implementation of the Affordable Care Act, healthcare has since become a more retail, consumer-focused business. Insurers continually are jumping on the retail-oriented bandwagon, and will continue to do so--healthcare reform only accelerated this trend.

With the possibility of rising premiums, insurers look at ways to help lower costs. "Prevention and detection is important. Insurers realize that if they test someone with diabetes, and detect them early, costs will come down. It's all about the members, it's the future for our industry," said Skerpon.

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