Thoughts from the Road

Consumerism and Healthcare: Observations

Welcome to this blog – thanks for taking a look. Before starting this first post, it makes sense to explain why I am sharing my thoughts.

After two and half decades of working in healthcare, mostly within and with over 50 health plans, I’ve seen a few things – things worth emulating and things that hold our industry back from doing the great work we want to do.

I’d like to use this blog to share my thoughts about how we can be better, and more importantly, hear from you – both feedback and suggestions. Some of my ideas might go against traditional thinking or your own views.

Good.

My goal here is to start a dialog. And to demonstrate my sincerity in hearing from you, here’s how to reach me for a 1:1 discussion that goes beyond this blog. Email me at brian (at) highroads.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

With that, here are my observations…

Consumerism. I wish I could define it. We applied that label nearly two decades ago to high deductible insurance in order to make people realize what things cost, and move more spend to consumers’ out of pocket. But in today’s world, the term is better applied to the immediate gratification we experience through Instagram, Amazon.com, and Uber Eats. These interactions are all about creating an instant dopamine hit with a few clicks. But more than anything, they’re about choice, alternatives that we never had before.

Where is this experience from us – the health plan (and associated supplier) industry? Employers are scrambling to figure out how to attract and retain talent because a younger demographic of workers wants to buy healthcare just like they buy everything else – with real choice. Where and how do we provide that level of “consumerism”? We haven’t brought industry-wide innovation to consumer-facing healthcare (so exclude ACOs) since the advent of “Consumer Directed” plans, narrow networks, and multi-provider tiered plans 15-20 years ago. Maybe that is the reason the American Customer Satisfaction Index report ranks health insurance in the bottom 15% (tied with the airlines).

But I’m seeing some interesting progress. An example is Bind (yourbind.com). They have created an interesting new way for employers and their employees to purchase healthcare with an a la carte approach. It appears to leverage a combination of consumer perception (pay for what you use) and employer requirement (get employees to be thoughtful about the value/cost trade-off in a way they can actually manage). While it remains to be seen if this innovation has legs, at least they recognize that innovation in healthcare is essential. At a minimum, they are getting attention.

My guess is that payors will need to reimagine how they create and sell products to mimic the buying experience in other industries. Just take a walk in any clothing store or visit clothing websites and their vast inventory. And this is before we get to the custom clothing makers like Sumissura, Proper Cloth, and Spoke. We’ve all become accustomed to choice, so it’s no surprise we want the same from our healthcare experience.

The challenge is that existing product creation and management don’t easily support flexibility and customization. Plans have become an order of magnitude more complex than they were just 10 years ago due to growth in services and multiple tiers. The tools we once used don’t apply to the growing challenge, and that leaves product, marketing, and sales areas – and, most important, consumers – in need.

There are a few solutions out there (single source of truth platforms) that provide plans the infrastructure needed to quickly build customized offerings that are profitable. HighRoads offers one such solution (shameless promotion), but regardless of what plans choose, they need to take a hard look at how consumerism is changing the game and make a bold move to embrace it.

So what are your thoughts? I look forward to hearing from you.