For consumers, open enrollment means a series of challenging decisions. It’s a time to shop, compare, switch or stay with a current health plan. But let’s face it, on a good day health insurance is a confusing, bureaucratic labyrinth.  And for the most part, consumers are not confident insurance buyers. A recent Urban Institute survey shows that half of individuals with health insurance don’t understand basic insurance concepts. For those going into the buying process without insurance the knowledge gap deepens dramatically.

Beside the avalanche of acronyms (IEP, OEP, AEP, SEP), open enrollment brings a bombardment of direct-to-consumer messaging – TV commercials, direct mail, online banner ads, etc. all making bold promises and playing one-upmanship with competitors. As health plans place the burden of choice squarely on the shoulders of the customer–selecting the right plan, budgeting for premiums, and choosing provider networks–consumers want a trusted advisor as they step into the role of prudent health insurance buyer.

Trust is a key word here. In a recent healthcare survey of 34,000 consumers probing their relationship with and attitudes toward healthcare insurers and providers, only 22% said they trust insurers and even fewer, 12% say they rely on insurers as a source for health advice or information…sobering statistics for insurers looking to influence prospects and customers about coverage options and health behavior.

If we expect consumers to take greater personal responsibility and stay involved in health benefit decisions, they need to be educated and engaged. Every touch-point throughout the healthcare customer journey must be driven by an integrated communication stream that deepens engagement through useful, personalized interactions and customer value exchange. Informed consumers will drive better upfront economic decisions and ultimately, better health and financial outcomes.

Health insurance brands are now inseparable from their ability to engage the customer and build trust. They must provide customers a reason to engage by guiding them through healthcare’s maze of choice and rewarding them with interactions that do the right thing for their healthcare. Success hinges on setting realistic expectations, clarifying rules of engagement, and providing continuous customer education throughout the member lifecycle. It means delivering responsive, understandable content to the consumer on their terms, through channels they consider most relevant.

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