Putting Customers First on the Last Frontier

Serving Medicare beneficiaries in the digital era

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By Scott Flanders, CEO of eHealth

The health insurance industry was slow to embrace the digital revolution, and unsurprisingly, Medicare beneficiaries were among the last health insurance consumers to embrace online shopping. But now it’s fair to say that they are making up for lost time. Each day more than 10,000 Baby Boomers age into Medicare, and these new beneficiaries are digitally savvy and come into the market with modern expectations. They want simple, transparent access to their Medicare coverage options without skimping on the personalized help and advice that prior generations counted on. When it comes to making one of life’s most important decisions, there’s no substitute for a personal touch.

At eHealth, where I serve as CEO, millions of Medicare shoppers visit our website each year, where they can review competing brand-name plans, compare their options, and enroll in coverage. Hundreds of thousands of them talk to the licensed insurance agents that staff our phones.

In other words, we’re hard at work on what you might call the “Last Frontier” of the digital revolution, and we’ve learned a lot about what it means to pursue a truly customer-centric business strategy while meeting the expectations of consumers in the Age of Amazon. Below are a few insights.

Most Medicare beneficiaries want to shop online and review coverage options frequently

In a recent survey, nearly a quarter (23%) of Medicare respondents told us they want to research and enroll in Medicare plans entirely online, while another 55% want to use a combination of online resources and personal help from a licensed agent. Fewer than one quarter want to shop for coverage the old-fashioned way, completely offline. It’s safe to say that’s a big shift from 10–15 years ago.

And today’s Medicare beneficiaries like to review their coverage options surprisingly often, in the same way they might review car insurance prices. In another survey, 75% of respondents said they check their Medicare coverage options once each year, despite the fact that only 27% say their personal finances and medical needs have changed since they last enrolled. There’s no better way to keep informed about new products coming into the market.

They expect innovation, and they’re looking to private enterprise to deliver it

We asked Medicare beneficiaries where they look for innovation in health care, and the answer was clear: private enterprise. More than half (54%) of survey respondents said businesses like ours do a better job than the government when it comes to consumer-focused innovation; only 14% thought the government does better.

That said, Medicare beneficiaries do see a strong role for the government when it comes to improving or expanding the Medicare program. Six in ten (60%) of our general population respondents felt the Medicare program should be expanded to encompass more people, while 75% of Medicare beneficiaries said the government should take direct action to reduce the cost of prescription drugs.

They understand the value of traditional agents and brokers

When it comes to making complicated Medicare enrollment decisions, it helps to talk with a licensed agent, and it doesn’t increase your costs. At eHealth we believe the key to providing customer-focused service is offering a large selection of Medicare plans from competing insurers and making sure our phone agents are commission-blind and incentivized to match beneficiaries with plans that satisfy their longer-term needs. We’re in this to build relationships rather than score short-term sales.

Though customers appreciate the ease of online shopping and our powerful plan comparison tools, they truly value the personal touch our agents provide. A strong majority (65%) said the fact that brokers like eHealth may earn commissions on sales doesn’t bother them. In fact, 59% said they’d be glad to provide agents with greater access to their personal claims history if it helped them find the plan that’s truly optimal for their personal needs.

So, what happens when businesses like ours let Medicare beneficiaries lead the way in the last frontier of the digital revolution? Good things happen — both for Medicare beneficiaries and for the organizations that serve them. At eHealth, we help our customers make informed decisions so they can enjoy the peace of mind that comes with having the right Medicare coverage, both today and for years to come. And we feel the love from them in return.

For a taste of what we hear from our customers every day, I invite you to look at the reviews they post on websites like Trustpilot. There you’ll read how we exceeded expectations by helping Karen find a local primary care physician in her plan network. Mary said eHealth was a “fantastic, impartial resource.” We helped Roger, who’d previously been denied for Medicare Supplement, find an insurer that would accept him. We delighted Sheila by being on her side and not pressuring her to buy. The combined ease of our website and expert help from our agents meant a lot of Stephen and his wife. And there’s plenty more.

When it comes to working on the frontier, that’s how you know you’re getting the job done.

Scott Flanders - Husband, father, CEO at eHealth. Passionate about fitness, privacy, information transparency, and healthcare policy.