Offer health insurance products that stand out

Open enrollment 2016: Best practices and lessons learned [Special Report]

By Leslie Small

For startup insurer Clover Health, the most effective marketing strategy is simply to introduce an insurance plan that defies consumers' expectations.

The idea behind the San Francisco-based company is to leverage data to improve health outcomes for Medicare patients, thereby keeping costs low.

In keeping with this ideal, Clover started offering an open-access preferred provider organization (PPO) plan that allows members to visit any Medicare physician in the country, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Kris Gale (right) told FierceHealthPayer in an exclusive interview.

"We think that's a big differentiator when we're selling the plan," he said. "Definitely even in the [Medicare Advantage] space, you're seeing a lot of narrow networks, a lot of HMOs, a lot of gate-keeper plans where people need referrals to go see specialists," he said.

Clover aims to use data to identify care gaps and then sends its care management team directly to members in times and places where intervention can reduce the probability of having acute episodes or hospitalization. This, Gale said, will keep costs down so members won't have to sacrifice choice.

But the difference in Clover's model also presented a challenge when marketing its new plan to the public, Gale said. The insurer found it had to explain the plan to skeptical consumers.

"That was the biggest lesson for us, with such a different plan design [we had] to really inform people about how that works and how we're able to drive the cost savings without a narrow network," he said.

And because it's so new to the game, the Clover also embraced both an experimental and quantitative approach to open enrollment.

For the former, that meant "trying a bunch of different approaches and sort of refining," including enlisting brokers, sending out direct mail and even advertising on billboards, Gale said.

The insurer also plans to take a "deep dive" into the math to determine what strategies were the most effective--consistent with its data-friendly business model.

In the future, as brand recognition increases, Clover wants to focus less on selling its plans and more on improving them, Gale added.

"We're hoping that members come out of the year with a good experience and the plan can grow mostly through word of mouth going forward," he said.