A Prescription for Attracting Millennials


BCBSWNY’s promotional coupon packets offer discounts for healthy activities.

When the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) health insurance mandate and public/private marketplaces went into effect in late 2013, it created a new, unprecedented era in direct competition for providing individual health insurance. Issuers previously insulated from some competitive pressures by institutional buyers and agents now face the age-old balance between low prices and higher perceived value when selling directly to consumers. In response, HealthNow New York, which operates insurer BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York (BCBSWNY) is emphasizing credits and discounts on healthy lifestyle activities with youth-skewing appeal, instead of simply slashing premiums to the bone.

Younger buyers are particularly crucial to the post-ACA market for individual health insurance to pad out claims from older and less-healthy subscribers, so HealthNow is not alone in coveting the millennial market. But BCBSWNY took a cautious approach in 2014, citing the uncertainties of the new marketplace. “Last year’s strategy was to be quiet. A lot of health insurance companies were,” says Gretchen Fierle, HealthNow’s SVP of marketing and communications. “This year we’ve been aggressive in promoting our brand.”

Prescribing greater value

For the 2015 policy year, BCBSWNY aimed to attract millennial attention and engender loyalty. So, it engaged the services of Block Club, a youth-oriented marketing agency, for help. “We knew we had to show immediate value, and demonstrate the ways that a healthy 27-year-old can get value out of a plan,” says Patrick Finan, Block Club principal.

Block Club and HealthNow crafted a two-pronged approach to create greater perceived value. The first was to include a $250 prepaid debit card that policyholders can use for practitioner fees, fitness center charges, and health food spending. In the past HealthNow included the debit card with a limited number of plans, but decided to extend it to all exchange-listed individual plans for 2015.

The second prong involves two promotional coupon packets, styled after playing cards, which offer two-for-one discounts for healthy activities and dining. The offers span venues from spin classes to biker bars and each deck offers over $500 in discounts. “We’re selling to lifestyle, rather than to the benefits of health insurance,” says Kyle Rogers, a HealthNow PR specialist.

The offers, shipped in a brand-themed “Blue Box,” give BCBSWNY the opportunity to establish value without focusing on price leadership. “We hope that buyers see that if another organization’s policy costs $20 less per month, but going with us gets them a $250 wellness card and $1,000 value in free activities, that there’s more value in buying through us,” HealthNow’s Fierle says.

Reaching today’s digital consumer

Enhanced value alone won’t sell more insurance plans if the coveted demographic can’t tolerate the brand experience. Before October 2014 HealthNow’s Web presence was comprehensive but unfriendly, intended for desktop browsing and distinctly lacking modern flair. That month, more than five weeks ahead of when the 2015 insurance enrollment window began, BCBSWNY and sister organization BlueShield of Northeastern New York launched a completely revamped microsite, shopbluesplans.com,  aimed at meeting the expectations of young, mobile consumers.

The streamlined site attracted tens of thousands of visitors in the first two months of operation with a responsive design tailored for mobile users. The surge represents a 236% increase in year-over-year traffic. Mobile traffic has more than doubled in the Western region and nearly tripled in the Northeast. To drive additional traffic from millennials, BCBSWNY is now advertising on the Pandora music streaming service, and packing its Instagram feed with happy faces enjoying the fruits of member discounts. The website overhaul has helped attract buyers across the demographic spectrum. “Having a site that’s easy to use helps whether you’re going after a 55-year-old or a 26-year-old,” Fierle says.

At press time, the final tallies for annual enrollment were not yet available. But HealthNow is heartened by the increase in mobile traffic, as well as by a 12% increase in click-throughs from BCBSWNY to the official New York State insurance marketplace, which processes final enrollment for most shoppers. Not bad for an organization that had to reinvent itself as a direct consumer marketer on the fly. “Healthcare is shifting to a B2C model, where the consumer has a lot more power and involvement in the purchasing process,” Fierle says. “We have to position ourselves to be relevant to the market over the next five to 10 years.”

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