Communicating health insurance—a consumer perspective

Consumers Union staffer Lynn Quincy expresses that explaining health insurance coverages and plans to consumers can be overwhelming.
Consumers Union staffer Lynn Quincy expresses that explaining health insurance coverages and plans to consumers can be overwhelming.

Lynn Quincy, senior health policy analyst at the Consumers Union, embraced the idea of exchange by noting that she had as much to learn from the individuals in the room as she could impart.  ICAE hopes that’s true because she gave all attendees much to think about; take a look…

What Consumers Union (Reports) does
The Consumers Union (CU) has a long history of advocacy and research and a strong reputation for improving the consumer ability to function in the market place. CU creates Consumer Reports, a trusted brand with more than eight million subscribers.

On to health insurance—how do we improve health insurance communications
Quincy pointed out that the lack of effective communication for consumers causes grave consequences.  Why?  Because without effective, consumer-oriented communications, consumers may be underinsured—a situation that can undermine the health insurance market place and, in addition, underinsured consumers who experience significant health issues have a significant number of bankruptcies.

How to improve communication?
CU performed testing on health care insurance communication and advances these recommendations. (Although the studies were specific to the health care product, many recommendations were global enough to be of importance for all insurance products.)

The recommendations:

  • Know your audience; know how the audience would like to be communicated to.
  • Know your audience is not an insurance expert.  How do they shop? In general, audiences…
    • Dread shopping for insurance,
    • View the insurance product as tricky—not ethical,
    • Find that no real information about actual medical costs is usually conveyed,
    • View health insurance as pre-paid health care—different from being insured against unexpected risks,
    • Want value for insurance funds—but are confused by cost-sharing terms,
    • Find communications are full of insurance-specific terms so the value proposition is confused.

In sum, consumers are asked to shop for a product for which no real consumer-friendly information is available—consumers feel as if they are being spoken to in a foreign language.  When necessary, consumers will use any type of prior insurance experience and knowledge to try to decipher health insurance information.


Lynn Quincy shares results from recent Consumers Union research conducted to find the best way to present and explain health insurance options.
Lynn Quincy shares results from recent Consumers Union research conducted to find the best way to present and explain health insurance options.

New disclosures can help
New disclosure requirements define what information must be included for consumers.  In addition to the premium, what the consumer is purchasing (what they will get for that premium) will be required. CU research demonstrated clearly that making actual cost information available to consumers will help consumers quickly see the actual need for insurance and understand the value of insurance—not simply focus on the cost.

What can the industry do to help consumers?  Unique opportunities coming…
Quincy noted CU’s research on health care communication can be used to maximize the benefits of health care changes—benefits for both the consumers and the carriers.  Here’s how:

  • Consumers will be actively looking for information in the fall of 2013—providing an opportunity for carriers and regulators to provide insurance education to a receptive audience.
  • Federal funding available for outreach—resource constraints are no longer a reason for ineffective communication.
  • Some items are standardized so that comparisons will be easier—a few things no longer need to be discussed—such as lifetime dollar limits.

A better communication
Quincy urged all present to help consumers by embracing the new way to talk to consumers, “Because the bottom line is clearly shown and can be understood by the consumer, this is a transformative moment.  A new way to communicate clearly shows the value received for insurance premium.”

She urged all consumer affairs professionals to:

  • Provide a road map for consumers to quickly understand what is being presented—a detailed glossary is not necessarily a good road map.
  • Show consumers what a plan will pay for and actual costs—actual examples convey the purpose and scope of insurance in a compelling way.

Regulators and carriers were encouraged to position their organizations as trustworthy. Give the consumer short cuts to help guide them through the task of determining what health insurance to buy.  Some of the short cuts that help answer the value proposition question for consumer included:

  • Use examples—do the math for them and provide estimated total costs that include expected out-of-pocket costs by plan.
  • Establish tiers that help navigate through information (platinum, gold, silver).
  • And, show plan features clearly.

Quincy concluded her remarks by making sure attendees remembered the consumer by producing consumer-friendly communication.  She stated that’s done by, “Making sure the consumer is aware of the information.  Once found, making information easy to navigate and understandable to the audience.”  Finally, she noted, there is no substitute for testing communication—test every communication, every time.  Over time, you’ll build trust and rapport with your audience.

Quincy reminded ICAE members that consumer-friendly organizations will profoundly affect consumer choices—initial search results will strongly impact decisions.  In fact, most consumers will not go beyond an initial summary—so if an initial summary is clear and appealing, it will prevail and help the consumer make an appropriate health care insurance decision.


Lynn Quincy
Senior Health Policy Analyst
Consumers Union
1101 17th Street, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC   20036


Click here to view the communicating health insurance – a consumer perspective presentation

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