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28 FEB. 2017

Health Insurance in the Obamacare Era: What Does it Mean for Brands?

Ray Ju

Corporate Branding Team, New York

When the Affordable Care Act, or commonly known as Obamacare, was signed into law by Former U.S. President Barack Obama back in 2010, among all the praises and condemnations people spoke little about the legislation’s impact on health insurance brands. We forgot to wonder: is Obamacare going to change brand perceptions of insurance companies that provide health insurance under this law? Will this change open the door for new brands to challenge the status quo of the health insurance market? Will the policy impact health insurance brands’ target audiences and brand messages?

In hindsight, Obamacare did all of that. Looking back, two insights that shine through:

1. Millennials are crucial

Under Obamacare, insurers were required to accept all applicants at the same rates regardless of pre-existing conditions. To stay profitable, insurers needed to connect with as many young and healthy people as possible to offset the cost generated by accepting those with pre-existing conditions and potentially high healthcare needs. The fact that Obamacare penalized those who could afford health insurance but remained uninsured, which were often young and healthy people, revealed how little traction health insurance brands had on millennials.

For insurers, being millennial-friendly is not a strategic choice, it is a rule of survival.

But how can a health insurance brand influence millennials to choose its brand over other competitors, or to make a choice at all, when the products it is selling may not even be considered necessary?

2. Digital transformation is a necessity

Obamacare’s inclusion of pre-existing conditions removed the need for a health evaluation. Insurers could bypass agents or brokers and actually sell health insurance directly to people. With or without Obamacare’s online health insurance exchanges, it is only natural for health insurance brands to take on digital transformation which has been disrupting so many other industries over the years.

That begs the questions – are we finally approaching a cure for the difficult and confusing digital experience that insurers have offered for so long?

The fact that “millennial” and “digital” often go hand in hand is all the more reason why health insurance brands are required to give the two their attention at the same time. Pushed by Obamacare, some brands are doing exactly that. Let’s have a look at several notable brands and what they are doing in terms of design, messaging, and brand experience.

Oscar – Simple Design, Modern Tone

Labbrand, branding, naming, China

Oscar was a start-up founded in 2012 specifically aimed at the opportunities created by Obamacare - reaching a younger audience who often felt intimidated by the thought of purchasing a health care plan.

Oscar created its own millennial-friendly voice by rethinking their communication. It applies simple and sleek design on its website, which uses survey-based intuitive user flow to help visitors find the most suitable plan for themselves. Brief and informal language also overtakes industry jargon and lengthy descriptions.

Speaking of language, cartoon caricatures are used across communication instead of pictures of real people, a nod to the fact that emojis and memes are often time the preferred “language” over words among millennials. Even Oscar’s TV spot features a smart phone screen where a young couple texting each other about their intimidation of health insurance, allowing Oscar to position itself as a modern alternative to the old-fashioned insurers. And of course, lots of emojis are featured in the ad.

To further build its soft and friendly image among millennials, Oscar partners with WeWork, the workspace-sharing start-up, to offer free flu-shots to WeWork members, many of whom are not covered through their start-up employers, and need to enroll in a health insurance plan under Obamacare by themselves. 

MetroPlus – Healthy Living Reward Cycle

Labbrand, branding, naming, China

MetroPlus is a low-cost health insurer targeting people living in the New York City metro areas. Channeling the trend of active and healthy living among millennials, MetroPlus offers a unique healthy living reward program. Its members can get reward points after finishing a reward activity, such as completing a doctor check-up or a step-up walking challenge. The reward points can then be used to exchange healthy living products like activity tracker, electronic toothbrush, basketball, and more.

It’s an effective way to not only encourage upbeat and healthy activity and attitude, but also to increase customer engagement, especially for the younger audience.

Zoom – Seamless Branded Experience from Insurance to Care

Labbrand, branding, naming, China

At the end of the day, people still go to the hospitals or clinics within the network of their insurance plans to seek medical care. A good insurance plan from a trusted brand may not guarantee a good experience at the health care facility. Yet, a bad experience at the hospital guarantees a negative impact on the insurance brand, since people need the insurance company to help them identify which health care facilities are within their covered network. Insurance and care are two connected activities in terms of experience, but separated in terms of the brand.

With millennials’ needs in mind, Zoom rethinks the whole health care system by connecting health insurance and health care and putting them under a same brand with seamless digital experience. Zoom offers affordable health insurance products and health care though its Zoom+ clinics in over 30 locations in Portland. 

It offers a better health care experience for millennials who usually are not heavy users of the health care systems, and expect the experience to be as efficient as possible. Its members can make same-day appointments at its clinics through a mobile app, and are usually in-and-out of the clinic within 30 minutes. The retail clinic is designed to be stylish and simple, with its prices even posted on the walls. It also opened a “performance studio” to help people reach their fitness goals, offering cooking and yoga lessons.

Conclusion: The Future of Health Insurance Brands

The door of the future seems to have opened just a crack for health insurance brands by Obamacare, where enters rays of light. Some of the takeaways for insurance brands include:

  1. Resonate with the younger audience by employing millennial-friendly nuances in branding and communication, from design through to tone.
  2. Know the audience and engage them based on their interests (healthy living and activities), not insurers’ interests (coverage and network, not to say they are not important).
  3. Rethink and synergize the scattered health care experience, and embrace digital transformation.
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