Horses and Zebras

Truth and Tactics for Health Marketers

Houston, We’ve Got a Problem. And the Problem is Trust.

Houston, We’ve Got a Problem. And the Problem is Trust.

Health insurance is a unique service category, to say the least. Rather than an ends purchase which results in you possessing something, health insurance is a means purchase. In other words, it is a means to having hassle-free, affordable access to the doctors and hospitals you need and trust.

Unfortunately, many health insurance plan members do not see it as a means to access their providers. Instead, their experiences have conditioned them to view health insurers as gatekeepers intent on reducing or denying access to their providers and needed care—care they are paying to receive. This disconnect should be a cause for concern for all health plan marketers. But, just like the problem faced by the crew of Apollo 13, with steady nerves and imaginations, it can be overcome.

To find a way to better understand this issue and find a way to effectively build consumer trust, BVK fielded two national surveys in 2020*. The first explored whether COVID was having an impact on health plan and health insurer perception.

The good news is that we found that it had not.  One potential reason is that pandemic-related healthcare shutdowns actually reduced interactions between health plans and their members.

The bad news is that we found pervasive satisfaction and trust issues related to health insurers specifically.

While we learned attitudes toward healthcare providers (doctors/nurses, pharmacies, and hospitals) were at historic high levels, opinions on health insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and the federal government were quite negative.

Interestingly, satisfaction with health plans was significantly higher than satisfaction and trust with the health insurers. This suggests that plans have begun to address some of the process issues that are at the root of dissatisfaction and consumers are giving them credit for it. But this appreciation does not extend to the insurers behind the plans. This, frankly, is a bit puzzling. If they have a moderate level of trust and satisfaction with their plan, shouldn’t they have similar trust in the insurers behind the plan?

Both surveys we conducted showed us the answer to this question is a resounding no.

While the trust issue was pervasive across all age groups, it was particularly acute for younger audiences. Medicare-aged audiences, on the other hand, tended to have higher levels of satisfaction. We next drilled down further into the qualities and behaviors that inspire trust and loyalty and it became clear that not all insurers are perceived alike.

A pervasive lack of trust is certainly not a welcome situation for any industry. And when you are dealing with services that directly affect quality of life, this is a potential disaster. In future blogs we will explore how to address the underlying issues that cause distrust and map out a way to repair broken relationships with plan members and navigate a flightpath back to successful growth.

* BVK Health Plan Surveys, 2020.

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