Open the New Health Customer Floodgates

Whatever you think of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), from website snags to promise guffaws to the political swirl, the fact remains that an estimated 50 million Americans will be invited into the health system through ACA—many for the first time. The complexities surrounding this influx and the choices they must make are multifaceted. As communicators, however, our role is straightforward and clear: Help people understand and access the information needed to make life-enhancing decisions.

One of the misperceptions surrounding ACA is that the individuals and families seeking health insurance on the new health plan marketplaces don’t have a choice. In fact, they now face a great deal of choice—different levels of coverage, price points, providers, health approaches and network sizes. The granular information need is understanding how to navigate these options. The bigger picture need is helping people recognize, and engage with, the new opportunity for access to quality care, preventive care and, ultimately, improved well-being.

Change of this magnitude always feels freshly daunting, but we’ve seen this play out before. When Medicare Part D went into effect in 2005, it, too, was surrounded by controversy and confusion, and great concern that millions of seniors would be unable to navigate and understand the new options they faced. Yet within a short period of time, thanks in no small part to communication efforts by third parties and industry alike, the over-65 population evolved into very savvy buyers of the health system. One of the biggest decision influencers for these savvy seniors was: Are the drugs I take on the plan’s formulary?

Now, more than 50 million Americans of all ages will be facing a similar set of choices. Like Part D, in order for ACA to be successful, health plan options must truly address consumer needs. For the first time, mega and targeted plans are marketing to individuals and not employers and associations. Consumers do express preferences in making a plan decision and the influencers are not only price! Recent survey data showed that consumers value the ease of making an appointment and having many doctors to choose from more than having the lowest-cost option—highlighting the importance of choice, and the size of a plan’s physician and hospital network, to the decision-making process.

Consumers are going to need more than health plan details to make these choices, however. The vision behind ACA is to keep people healthy—and with this renewed emphasis, and new access to preventive care, we will likely see a rebirth of disease awareness efforts. Encouraging millions of new healthcare system participants to seek care that helps treat and prevent conditions like asthma, heart disease and diabetes will require a new form of non-brand and branded marketing communications that melds with advocacy efforts. For companies with prescription and OTC products that command physician confidence in treating these conditions, this is a call to action for creativity that benefits society. Consider the possibility! Suddenly, millions of Americans who received reactive- or emergency-centered care will now see their needs handled with the goal of prevention.

Helping the millions of Americans newly eligible for health insurance under ACA to engage successfully in the system will require clarity of communication on multiple fronts. By increasing access to information, healthcare marketers and communicators will help to increase access to care, and ultimately, help improve the health and wellbeing of our communities. This is a time when biotech and pharmaceutical companies can consider engaging new, eagerly listening customers.