Health-Care Ruling Likely to Lead to More Marketing From Insurers, Hospitals

Companies Seek to Differentiate Themselves as They Court New Consumers

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Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act, expect increased marketing from insurance companies and health-care providers as they vie for the attention of consumers.

The law, slated for implementation by 2014, requires that states set up exchanges through which consumers can purchase health insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions. It also mandates that consumers show proof of coverage through their tax filings.

This means that insurance companies will continue to boost marketing aimed at a consumer base to which it never had to cater. And those that had put their marketing efforts on hold until the ruling was made will have to scramble to catch up, explained Lindsay Resnick, CMO of KBM Group, a WPP Health Services company. KBM works with a number of companies, including Wellpoint, Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Windsor Health.

"A lot of people over the last three months had been saying let's wait for the decision -- now [they're] three months behind," he said.

Marketing issues aside, many health-related companies were moving forward as if the law would go into effect. Wendy Lund, CEO of health-care PR agency GCI Health, told Ad Age : "Many of our clients have been preparing for ACA implementation since the bill was signed in March 2010; most do not anticipate any immediate, significant changes to their core business. As for specific implications of ACA to health-care providers and insurers, it's a little early to say. The hope is that reform will address several of the stress points in our health-care system, but the law will likely continue to evolve as the national discussion continues, especially in the context of the presidential election."

Mr. Resnick said the next step for insurance companies will involve a lot of hyper-local targeting and attention to data. In many cases, health-care marketing agencies will be working closely with big consulting firms to look at clients' segmentation and necessary changes to operational functions like call centers. "You better know in your markets who the uninsured people are who will now have access [to care], and who most likely will be taking advantage of the health exchanges."

In the short-term, marketers will seek to forge loyalty with existing customers. Mid-2013 is when the budgets will start to grow and health companies will launch more aggressive efforts to attract new customers, he said. "There will certainly be a trend toward localization."

Insurers' actions pre-decision will also likely play a role in their loyalty strategy. A few weeks ago, three insurers -- Aetna, Humana and United -- pledged to uphold elements of the reform law, regardless of the Supreme Court ruling. As they look to forge loyalty, they can now remind consumers that they would have had their backs had the law been overturned. It's a meaningful message in a much more competitive landscape where insurance brands have less room for distinction.

For health providers like hospitals, the Supreme Court decision means an influx of new customers and a short-term objective of setting expectations, Mr. Resnick said. "Say you have 15 million people pouring into [hospitals] with shiny new insurance cards. Providers have to figure out how to manage that . We'll start seeing some marketing from providers around setting expectations in their community. We might see an uptick in mobile [marketing] or in the clinic market."

Employers will also remain a b-to-b target for insurers, as the law mandates that businesses with more than 50 people distribute health benefits.

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