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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Health insurance costs rise sharply

If health insurance is taking a bigger bite out of your paycheck, you’re not alone.  A story in today’s New York Times indicates that policy prices have jumped 9% in the past year according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation.  Click here to see the story.

Implications:   As I sat in the waiting room before a doctor’s appointment this week, a lady at the front desk was sharply criticizing her bill.  It was a private conversation that I did not want to overhear, but both the volume and the demeanor of the exchange made it impossible to be unaware of.  “All they did was take my blood pressure and do a med check, and I didn’t even see the doctor,” she complained.  (Her only contact on the visit was with a nurse.)  “How can that possibly be worth (more than $175?)”  The woman went on to explain that she did not have insurance, so it would be an out-of-pocket expense. 

I felt sorry for the both the frustrated customer and the office manager trying to explain the charges.  (Even the clinic employee was having a hard time justifying the cost, which amounted to a rate of more than $1,000 per hour.)  With both unemployment rates and health insurance costs at such high levels, we can expect this conversation to be repeated in waiting rooms across the U.S., and often. 

There are two learning points that I took away from this experience and the Time article.  The first one is for the healthcare and insurance industries:  Some of you haven’t done a great job of communicating the value you provide for the dollars you receive, and some of your patients are losing their patience.  Those consumers are likely to start scrutinizing healthcare charges more closely.

Secondly—and this is for folks outside the healthcare field—we can expect consumers to take more health issues into their own hands.  From fitness to nutrition, consumers will be looking for ways to avoid healthcare (and insurance) costs.  Is there any aspect of the business you are in that could constitute “an ounce of prevention?”  Think health-conscious menus at restaurants, any product or service that involves getting some exercise, or packaged goods that involve portion control.  Communicating any healthful attribute your product or service has might be just what the doctor, or… patient, ordered.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

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