By Ted Knutson
Customer service will be a big factor in determining the winners and the losers in the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplace, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt. Slavitt spoke today at the National Association of Health Underwriters 26th annual Capitol Conference in Washington.
“How companies treat consumers in this process is an important part of their ability to build the right brand in a fully retail health care world. Those that treat customers well – and make changes gradually and with clear explanations - will build loyalty among consumers that could have lifetime value. Those that make sudden announcements, frequent changes that they don’t explain, or enter and exit markets sporadically will likely find that brands are built by consumers who have long memories,” Slavitt told those who attended the annual NAHU lobbying conference.
The CMS chief said it is too early to declare victory for the ACA. However, with millions more people insured, no reductions in employer-sponsored coverage, and continuous and significant job growth in the first years of coverage, there is a good base to build on.
Slavitt claimed that base is good for insurers as well as consumers.
“(This) new business opportunity for health insurers as the move to make health care more retail business, driven by the consumer, is on. From what used to be a slow-growing and highly selective individual insurance market before the ACA, competitors can win and grow meaningful market share with the right set of offerings,” the CMS leader said.
To make the marketplace thrive, Slavitt said, it must be an attractive place for consumers to come and shop. The marketplace must be a place for health plans to connect and build relationships with desirable consumers. It also needs a predictable set of underwriting and other rules that compensate fairly for risk and keep the risk pool stable and balanced.
Slavitt outlined his agency’s agenda for the health care marketplace in the coming year. He said CMS will focus on further efforts to build a market attractive to both consumers and health plans, and to insure market rules are fair and promote rate stability.
He called the ACA part of a long-term journey to provide affordable, stable coverage to millions of Americans. Slavitt noted the effort will require all the stakeholders to assess the data from the first few years and make needed adjustments.
“Consumers must do this. Health plans must do this. Insurance commissioners must do this. And those who operate marketplaces must do this,” Slavitt said.
As one sign of success, he pointed out the percentage of new consumers under the age of 35 in states that used the federal marketplace was at 43 percent this year compared with 40 percent a year ago.
Slavitt also said innovations are taking place that respond to consumer demands such as enabling ACA enrollees to pick a plan based upon the insurance their doctor accepts or the prescription drugs they take.
Ted Knutson is a Washington-based financial reporter with more than 40 years of journalism experience. Ted can be reached at [email protected].
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