Independence Blue Cross educates last-minute exchange shoppers


With the shift to a consumer-focused insurance industry comes a greater need for consumer education. Americans have a few more days to purchase their own coverage, but many still don't understand fundamental health insurance concepts.

So Philadelphia-based Independence Blue Cross has been focusing on educating consumers about the Affordable Care Act, as well as what health insurance is and how to best use it, Brian Lobley (pictured), IBC's senior vice president of Marketing & Consumer Business, told FierceHealthPayer in an exclusive interview.

The insurer conducted market research to better understand and address consumers' pain points and confusion in dealing with the insurance marketplace. For example, not one person out of more than 1,000 interviewed could correctly define coinsurance, "a pretty normal term inside our building; we all know what coinsurance means" Lobley said. "When we went outside to consumers, they didn't know."

To explain the real benefits of health insurance, IBC turned to gamification, creating an iPad app that shows how coverage can lower out-of-pocket costs for various patient scenarios.

"We're not a soft drink company; we can't go roll out a new [beverage] and say 'here, taste my product.' That doesn't work in health insurance; I can't give away free samples. So we had to think of a way to make it real for consumers," Lobley told FierceHealthPayer.

Not only do insurers need to "make it real" for consumers, they also need to make it simple, according to Lobley.

"Our industry is full of complex jargon and our approach has been how to distill all that information into easy-to-use phrases or depictions," he said. Part of that approach involves taking a page from other industries, such as retail or financial services, that offer an experience that is easy for consumers to understand.

How can insurers determine if the push for consumer education worked? Look at enrollment numbers, said Lobley, who noted IBC has more than 110,000 members enrolled in the new ACA individual market products as of March 24. "That in and of itself is a great success measure for us," Lobley said.

As the March 31 deadline inches closer, insurers should continue to ramp up consumer education efforts--just as last-minute Christmas shoppers hit the mall on Christmas Eve, exchange consumers will be trying to purchase coverage before the deadline.

"We are absolutely seeing that surge and we expect to see it these next five days before March 31," Lobely said.

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