Updated March 23 at 3:23pm
health care

Exchange’s new direction becomes clearer


PROVIDENCE – The new names and tag lines for the R.I. Health Benefits Exchange that tested the best with consumers were “RI Health Source and Health Source RI” and “We’ve got you covered” and “Your health. Your way,” according to Michael Perry, who conducted market research on behalf of the exchange in March and April.

Perry shared the findings of the second phase of market research at a May 17 meeting of exchange community stakeholders. The research included eight focus groups – four with consumers, three with small businesses and one with physicians – and a statewide telephone survey of 1,209 adults who are Rhode Island residents.

While the survey revealed that many Rhode Islanders had not heard about the exchange, once they learned more about it, interest spiked in using it. The research found that small employers (85 percent), those who are self-employed (78 percent), those who are currently uninsured (76 percent), those with children in household (70 percent) and those who are between 18 and 64 years old (69 percent) were very or somewhat likely to use the exchange.

The research also found that there were no significant barriers that will keep most Rhode Islanders from using the exchange if they needed insurance. Among the concerns voiced by respondents were worries that premiums will go up (11 percent), that they didn’t believe government will do a good job running it (9 percent) and that they were not comfortable choosing insurance online (8 percent).

A key factor cited by consumers was the ability to talk with someone on the phone to be able to get “live help” (77 percent) and being able to communicate with that same person if you need help more than once (68 percent). “It’s about relationships,” Perry said.

The key words that resonated to respondents were “affordable,” “confidence,” “stress-free” and “security,” according to Perry. In terms of security, consumers were not referring to online security, but rather, Perry said, “a sense that I will find a health plan that I can afford and one that is right for me.”

Perry, who has also conducted market research for exchange efforts in Washington State, Vermont and the District of Columbia, said that the primary decision-makers around health care were women, not men, particularly when families were involved. Men, he continued, tended to offer advice when it involved “finances.” The hardest demographic market to attract to use the exchange, he added, will probably be single young men younger than 30.


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Great findings. It would be helpful to know the percent of respondents who had not heard about it yet (alarm bells should be ringing here), and how to address that awareness issue as it will be a big deterrent to its success. This is particularly concerning for the 30 & under demographic which is critical to ensuring a broader risk pool base. President Obama will be doing a 50-state campaign this summer to push for participation by this age group, and RI needs to take full advantage of that effort. Finally, the "live help" should be an imperative as a means to drive adoption. Failing to adequately service the exchange will result in dismal utilization by those who actively engage.

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