Consumers More Trusting of Health Plans Than They Were, but There Is Still Work to Do

 Consumers are more trusting of their health palns

First the good news. Consumer trust in their health insurance plans is on the rise. A 2015 survey by PARTNERS+simons found that 49 percent of members trust their health plans, which is a big leap forward from 2012 when a survey by The World Congress found only 38 percent of members trusted their plans.

This new trust in health insurance plans is likely due to improved communications. A 2015 JD Powers survey noted a 17 point increase over 2014 results in members’ satisfaction with communication and availability of information.

In the three years since the Health Insurance Marketplace went live, health plans have invested more resources in customer service. Many have chosen to outsource customer response to advanced call centers with specialized technology that improves the productivity of customer services reps. This has allowed health plans to improve their communications without raising their costs. And that has translated into improved relationships.

And health plans are getting better at providing cost information, which is important to members. Too often in the past, questions about cost went largely unanswered, leaving members in doubt about whether they were being charged too much and fueling distrust.

Distrust, though dropping, is still high

Now for the bad news. Though the industry has improved in its ability to engender trust, more than half of health plan members don’t trust their plans, and many members actively distrust their health plans. That’s not good if you are one of the plans that members don’t trust because trust is a big factor in choosing a plan and recommending a plan to others.

So what can you do to improve trust levels? First, cover the basics, like responding quickly and answering questions accurately. Transparency matters, too. You need to be able to tell your members what a service or procedure will cost before they make their decisions. Too often in the past, members who tried to make wise cost decisions were trapped in the cycle of being told to ask their provider about cost, only to have the provider tell them to ask the plan. That is infuriating and should never happen. If you can’t tell a member what a routine service, such as a screening mammogram, will cost, shame on you. In an era of high-deductible plans, customers want and need to know what things cost and how those costs vary from one provider to another.

Be proactive in managing the relationship

To substantially differentiate your organization from competitors, you also need to be proactively managing the relationship. Social media listening, combined with advanced analytics and well-integrated data can tell you a lot about what consumers want and what they think of your organization. A good Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform can help you ensure that your staff knows what they need to know about a member when they interact with the member.

Also, health plans need to look at their systems for advising members who want to choose the highest quality, most cost-effective provider. Most health plans have at least basic systems for measuring quality and cost-effectiveness of the providers in their networks. If you can find a way to steer your members to those providers who offer better outcomes and who are cost-effective you can earn the gratitude (and trust) of your members while also reducing your costs.

For a longer look at this subject, you may want to read The Trust Factor: An Imperative for Success in a Consumer-Driven Health Insurance Market. We’ve just updated the paper with new data and advice, so if you’ve read the previous version, it’s worth another look. I’d love to hear from readers of the paper and any ideas you have for improving trust with members. That’s another way to build trust – listen to those who have a stake in the game.

About the Author: John Hurd