25 ways that insurance companies can use Twitter to reduce health insurance costs

KM | April 24, 2009

The health insurance industry was among the first industries to embrace Internet technologies as the primary means of interacting with its clients. Some observers credit the employee benefit industry with overcoming its pervasive fear of providing personal and financial information online in the mid-1990s. Yet now, a decade later, the industry has been noticeably slow to adapt The Internet's exploding social media resources as a platform to build relationships with the public. Other industries like real estate and entertainment report significant success using Twitter and similar technologies. While we understand that legal and liability issues warrant a "go slow" approach to radical changes in public communications, the industry must deal with the influence that social medial like Twitter is having in consumer behavior.

This article lists twenty five ways the health insurance industry could use Twitter to help reduce health insurance costs for individuals, build credibility, and develop the market of potential members. MedSave.com is a forerunner in this change, now using Twitter for these purposes but we have barely scratched the surface of what is possible with each if these topics:

  1. announce rate increases - giving consumers an early "head's up" gives more time to make changes wither within their current plan or switching to another insurance.
  2. announce rate reductions - many consumers would be surprised to learn of the many insurance plans that are reducing costs in specific markets.
  3. announce changes in underwriting standards - as medical technology advances to reduce the cost of long term catastrophic medical treatment, more people with specific medical issues qualify for better rates in insurance plans
  4. echo developing trends and consumer preferences - let consumers know what others are doing to reduce medical insurance costs.
  5. count new member enrollments - announcing the number of enrollments (without identifying the persons of course) gives real-time information on the popularity of specific insurance plans.
  6. comment on related political news - health insurers have a vested interest in health care reform and social medial is proven to be a timely, efficient and effective communication tool.
  7. news about state mandates - insurance laws and regulation change almost every week so Twitter can be used to announce the most recent developments.
  8. answer consumer questions - a growing number of companies now provide some sort of generic customer support role on Twitter.
  9. highlight new articles - announcing recent articles and press releases is one of the most common uses of Twitter by businesses.
  10. announce new products - new insurance plans are being introduced at a record pace as insurers evolve toward universal health insurance.
  11. engage public debate - the commentary format is an efficient means to gather diverse opinions. Recent experiences like the Obama team's change.gov indicate that public support increases when individuals feel that they had a part in the process.
  12. offer a venue for venting frustrations - it is said that almost everyone hates their health insurance; this is a natural and unavoidable reaction to any business that serves as a public "gatekeeper" regardless of the type of insurance. It makes sense to give people a better opportunity to vent these frustrations and possibly reduce costly member turnover over the long term.
  13. be more accessible - a common consumer complaint is that they cannot "get through" to their insurance carrier. Twitter provides another avenue of communication.
  14. increase public knowledge about health insurance - many health care experts believe that this is the single most cost-effective way to reduce our nation's health insurance costs.
  15. expand the product options known to potential buyers - people cannot use new innovative insurance products that they have not heard about yet.
  16. reach a younger population - young people can obtain health insurance at a much lower cost than older people. Most can easily afford health insurance. Yet young adults are more likely to be uninsured than any other age group. This age group is heavily represented among Twitter users.
  17. announce changes in coverage - as medical technology changes, so does insurance. Consumers with the most recent information about coverage for their own conditions can use this to reduce their costs.
  18. distribute prescription drug formulary information - the prescription drug landscape and pricing changes almost daily. Again, individuals with the most up-to-date information stand to benefit.
  19. announce preferred provider network changes - member out-of-pocket costs can be controlled by knowing which local medical providers have joined or left PPO networks. 
  20. alert the public about new scams - unfortunately, as cost increase so do the number of scams. Reputable insurers can distribute alerts on Twitter to save people from falling victim to such scams.
  21. encourage positive attitudes - a "can do" attitude will certainly facilitate the coming health care reform. The overwhelming negative tone of health insurance news tends to paralyze consumers. MedSave.com sees increasing evidence that positive news announced on Twitter can be effective to prompt public action.
  22. identify propaganda in the media - a few well-funded political action groups like Families USA are far removed from mainstream opinions but are able to "buy" public opinion in television and newspaper media. Twitter opinion cannot be as easily influenced with budgets for this type of spin.
  23. attract traditional media coverage - reporters use Twitter to find ideas for new articles.
  24. speed up adoption of new laws - changes in health insurance law, like those in the recent expansion of COBRA benefits in the Economic Recovery Act, could be more quickly utilized by utilizing the features of unique features of Twitter. Those who will benefit from the legal changes may be able to take action to access their new benefits sooner.
  25. add a personal touch - perhaps the greatest influence of social media is to bring a sense of person-to-person interaction to otherwise impersonal societal changes. Twitter users respect the comments of credible individuals more than those of corporations or impersonal news sources.


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