By: Debra Fin, Vice President; Jennifer Brown, Research Director
The Email Conundrum for Health Plans
If you think about how you last received information from your health plan, I am sure it came in a box, the mailbox.
However, when Morpace asked health plan members how they would prefer to receive health plan communications they were clear—Email 63% of the time!
Morpace conducts a monthly random survey of the American population 18 years and older, exploring consumer preferences and trends across all 50 states in our Omnibus Survey. A minimum of 1,000 individuals from our online panel complete a variety of questions and share their demographics with us. From April to September 2015, we collected more than 5,400 responses to questions about health plan information for members. We learned about their preferences for receiving both health and wellness and benefits and claims information and compared that to what we have learned from working with over 200 health plans.
Addresses are hard to get
Depending on the plan type, we consistently hear that health plan member postal addresses are constantly changing. We live in a mobile society. In 2014, more than 28 million people 16 and older changed residence in the United States. When Morpace conducts health plan surveys we must update health plan and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid data records for addresses and phone numbers using specialized vendors. We do this to maximize response rates by making every attempt to ensure we deliver our surveys and reach health plan members by phone.
Even after updating these data files, up to 11% of records are found to be incorrect after implementing the mail and phone protocols! Medicaid beneficiaries are a mobile population and both mailing addresses and phone numbers change frequently. Medicare beneficiaries age out of their own home into a family member’s home or into a skilled facility. Working adults change jobs, changes homes, move away.
How do you stay in touch?
You’ve got mail….
Email addresses are stable contact sources for most individuals existing independently of their owner’s physical location. I moved from Michigan to Tennessee and back again in a four year span, and had the same email address covering three postal addresses!
Email may be the perfect solution for many and health plan members agree. When our Omnibus Survey participants were asked how they would prefer to receive information about wellness and health services from their health plan 63% said email, and 45% said mail. When we differentiated the material type by information about benefits and claims, email remained the stronger preference versus postal mail (61% vs. 52%).
Respondents in the Morpace Omnibus Survey who preferred email are typically enrolled in Commercial insurance, younger than 55 years old, have a higher household income, and live in the western United States. Those respondents with strongest preference for mail are 55 plus, African American females with incomes less than $50,000, and have government insurance.
Medicare beneficiaries prefer mail as their first choice for both types of materials, although for wellness materials there was not a significant difference for mail versus email receipt. According to the Pew Research Center studies, 61% of Americans over 65 are online. Therefore, we know seniors are using the web. However, the strongest preference for mail versus email was for benefits and claims materials. We suspect that the increased preference for postal mail with benefits and claims items is related to these being personalized communications on issues affecting their pocketbooks.
Yet, many seniors in our focus groups will tell us that they are inundated with direct mail that they throw out since it may not be addressing a need they have right then.
Websites scored at a consistent preference level of 27% for both health and wellness materials and claims and benefits communications. However, our anecdotal information from working with many plans is that members rarely use their health plan’s website. Moreover, we know from talking with health plan members, they often find plan websites tough to navigate. Many, who are digitally savvy, do go to plan websites and cannot find what they want, then go to the phone and call customer service. This can result in a plan representative getting a frustrated member on the line thus creating a service recovery challenge. Dissatisfied members are more likely to rate the plan lower in their overall satisfaction.
So why not email all plan communications?
Email addresses are hard to get. In addition, not all plan members are online. One health plan client let us know that their data system does not have a field to capture information, others cited low response rates when requesting emails, and yet another has talked about legal issues. Privacy concerns and spam emails are often cited as the reasons members choose not to provide their email address.
However, as mailing costs go up and known waste of direct mailed publications increases, the use of email and customer portals becomes an attractive alternative for both health plans and their members. As a result, arming your customer service representatives with training and the idea of collecting emails for future use becomes more important.
By targeting your communications to the channel preferred by members, you can more successfully engage them. Health plan members who can assess information quickly are more likely to have a better experience with the plan and higher plan satisfaction.