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What are Payers Learning on the Path to Transparency?

December 23, 2014
by Gabriel Perna
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The push for transparency in healthcare is moving ahead at full throttle and payers are starting to grasp specific consumer demands in this area. They're also learning that like the secret to a successful marriage, the key to better member engagement is communication, communication, and communication. 
America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a national association for insurers, hosted a webinar this past week, "Have You Ever Asked Your Members Which Transparency Tools They Want? We Did," which examined what consumers are looking for in the area of transparency. In the webinar, the Cicero Group, a Salt Lake City-based research organization, revealed the results of their survey of 601 individuals enrolled in a health insurance plan. The survey aimed to understand how much transparency members are looking for, what kinds of tools they want, and compare these results with what insurers are offering. 
Ultimately, what the Cicero Group found, was that members really want transparency tools. Both payers and members seem to confirm this. Eighty-three percent of member respondents said these kinds of tools were important for them to make informed decisions. An earlier survey of insurers revealed that, of those who offer transparency tools, 70 percent say it was driven by member demand, according to Chad Berbert, engagement manager at Cicero. Not only do consumers want transparency tools, they want these tools to be personalized to their conditions and tailored to their benefit levels. 
This growing demand is not exactly newsworthy. Various stakeholders, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to Congress, are pushing the industry toward an environment where transparency is a necessity. 
What's interesting though, is figuring out the kinds of tools consumers are seeking. According to the survey, it comes down to two things in particular. "They want to compare providers on quality and cost. Those were the two things we heard loud and clear," Berbert said. 
At 96 percent, nearly every respondent said some kind of basic provider search tool would be helpful. Almost as much, 93 percent, said they'd like a calculator of some sorts that could estimate the cost of a treatment. While most insurers provide the search tool, only 64 percent offer the cost calculator.
For those that offer tools but aren't seeing a high utilization rate, Berbert said communication was a huge issue. Quite simply, insurers that communicate more frequently to members are seeing higher awareness and utilization rates of these tools, and thus, higher overall satisfaction rates. 
Cicero found a significant awareness gap in some of the transparency tools that insurers are providing including basic provider search (96 percent of insurers are providing, only 74 percent of members are aware); treatment cost calculator (64 percent are providing, 47 percent are aware); mobile access (68 percent providing; 45 percent are aware); and others. This too comes down to communication. 
Berbert says that most members are seeking better communications from their insurers on transparency tools. A larger percentage of members (49 percent) say that better communication would drive usage of these tools, compared to incentives (45 percent) or reductions in premium costs (41 percent). The most preferred communication method, according to 63 percent of member respondents, is through email.
While communication was the most significant reason for the utilization gap, it wasn't the only one. In some cases, members knew about transparency tools their insurer offered but thought they were too time consuming (49 percent), complicated (33 percent), hard to access (33 percent), or not helpful (12 percent). 

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